22 apr. 2009

Boycotting Geneva is unwise

Jewish students shout during the speech of Iranian president Ahmadinejad at the UN anti-racism conference.

Published: 20 April 2009
It is a pity that the Dutch government would rather boycott the UN anti-racism conference than engage in a debate about Zionism.
By Roel Schrijvers

Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen said the UN anti-racism conference is "too important to be hijacked for political purposes" - and promptly withdrew from the conference. It was nicely put: the government comes off sounding so reasonable that you almost don't notice that it is being entirely unreasonable.
A bit of history is required. The closing resolution of the 2001 Durban conference was also widely criticised for being anti-Semitic. I have gone through its 63 pages in detail and there is nothing there that wasn't already established by the UN at some point: the Palestinians live in occupied territory and they have a right to self-determination. And all countries, including Israel, have a right to security.
What's more, the 2001 closing resolution was welcomed by Israel at the time. Shimon Peres, then president of Israel, called the statement "a very important achievement, an accomplishment of the first order for Israel and Israeli democracy".
The statements in the resolution were all correct. But even if they weren't: they form the basis of every two-state solution that has ever been proposed. In short: there was no reason not to sign it in 2001, and there is no reason not do so now.
As with every major anti-racism conference there are parties wanting to define Zionism as racism. It is often forgotten that the UN has already done this. A "Zionism is racism"-resolution was adopted by the UN general assembly in 1975. It was revoked in 1991 under pressure from the US, in part because the Madrid peace conference at the time brought hope of a lasting peace.
But there can be no question that Zionism is discriminating. In a nutshell, Zionists want a country with a Jewish identity that would be safe for Jews. There is nothing wrong with that except that implementing it is fraught with problems.
The facts go back some time, but they are important because they form the very basis of the organisation of the state of Israel.
In 1950 the development authority law was adopted, giving the Jewish National Fund property rights over 92 percent of the land - most of which was taken from its Palestinian owners - and making it the inalienable property of Jewish people worldwide. The final result of this law - combined with later laws - was that non-Jews are not allowed to buy, lease or work the land.
In 1952, Israel adopted the Jewish nationality law, offering Israeli citizenship and the Jewish nationality to all Jews (and only Jews) from the minute they set foot on Israeli soil. This distinction between citizenship and nationality is unique in the world. It is the legal basis for the institutionalised discrimination that gives Jews with the Jewish nationality access to privileges and services provided by the state of Israel.
That same year saw the creation of the Jewish Agency. Its task is to develop the country. Because of the nationality law thousands of Israeli citizens without the Jewish nationality were not eligible for a number of nationality-based privileges: they could not work on 'national' land, take part in 'national' housing schemes or apply for educational or agricultural grants.
On December 25, 1989, the Israeli supreme court ruled that a Jew who converts to another religion is no longer considered a Jew and is therefore excluded from the Jewish benefits that come with citizenship and nationality. The verdict was important because it underscored the legal basis for discrimination by equating nationality with religious persuasion.
Eleven days later, one of the supreme court judges confirmed that in Israeli society Zionism is preferred over other, universal values such as non-discrimination. "The essence of a Jewish state is to give pre-eminence to Jews as Jews. Anyone who asks, in the name of democracy, for equality to all its citizens - Jews and Arabs - must be rejected as one who negates the existence of the Israeli state as the state of the Jewish people," the judge declared on January 5, 1990. (From the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, cited in News from Within, April 3, 1991.)
Zionism comes down to the expropriation and marginalisation of non-Jews in general and Palestinian Arabs in particular. The state of Israel is a fact, but it is clear that Zionism and democracy are ultimately irreconcilable in the event that Jews should become a minority within the state of Israel. The logic of Zionism implies apartheid and discrimination and this is confirmed in practise.
That our government should refuse to engage in a debate about this is regrettable. Minister Verhagen is absolutely right when he says an anti-racism conference is too important to be hijacked for political purposes. He would do well to take a look in the mirror.

Roel Schrijvers is a lawyer specialised in international and European law at IUS-consult.

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