One doesn’t have to agree with the wilder, deeply reactionary views of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel and the Jews to spot the hypocrisy of the walk-out by Western diplomats at yesterday’s UN conference on racism in Geneva.
Ahmadinejad’s denial of the historical fact of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis gave Britain and other nations the opportunity to parade themselves as anti-racists. But the walk-out also reinforced their more or less unconditional support for Israel, which nonsensically equates any criticism of it with anti-Semitism, and exposes a continuing indifference to the plight of the Palestinians.
The conference itself was always going to be a farce because the organisers had already determined that there would be no discussion at all, in official or unofficial sessions, on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the questions this continues to raise about racism. In the end, 170 Palestinian groups involved in boycott and disinvestment campaigns organised their own conference in Geneva at the end of last week. At the conference, internationally renowned legal experts, researchers, academics and activists discussed legal strategies to hold Israel accountable for its illegal policies and practices of racial discrimination.
The view that the state of Israel practises racist policies towards the Palestinian people is held by a wide range of people and ought to be debated. In 2002, for example, Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and anti-apartheid activist, described how he saw on his visit to Israel "much like what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about".
The history of Israel and South Africa are, of course, not the same. However, the actions and laws used against Palestinians, both in and outside Israel, are founded on discrimination by one ethnic group against another. The 2008 annual report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) found that Arab Israelis are disadvantaged, persecuted, endangered, and live under third-world conditions, especially in "unrecognised villages" in the Negev and Galilee.
In Occupied Palestine, conditions are far worse and oppressive. "For forty-one years, Israel has denied fundamental rights to four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza," effectively controlling their lives, and repressively denying them their rights under military occupation, says the report.
Dealing with the right to equality, ACRI says that Arab Israelis and Palestinians are “fundamentally denied them” in all respects. Though legally entitled to full equality, they're effectively victimised by institutional discrimination. For example, Arab children are educated separately from Israeli Jews.
This blatant discrimination is ignored by the major Western powers like the United States, which continue to fund Israel because it suits their geo-political interests and the strategy of divide and rule in the Middle East. Many Israeli Jews, however, are deeply disturbed by the catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinians and the fact that the country’s new foreign secretary, Avigdor Lieberman is in favour of ethnically cleansing the country of Arabs.
Uri Avnery, who in the period after World War Two fought with the right-wing terror group Irgun to drive the Palestinians out, wrote during last week’s Passover of “the catastrophe that we have caused the Palestinians” and denounced “religious fanatics and fascist hooligans, who claim to be the heirs of the [Zionist] pioneers”.
So civil liberties organisations in Israel can talk of discrimination and Avnery can denounce Jewish fascists, but the UN is not allowed to talk about what’s going on! No wonder the Palestinians have all but given up hope of the UN taking any practical action to further their just claim to self-determination.
AWTW communications editor