Today, 01st April 2017 was the second day in the three day anti-Israel conference in Cork. As I arrived in the morning, I was still feeling somewhat bitter over the events of the day before. This the central difference between the usual anti-Israel events and a conference such as this. There is simply no recovery time. Speech after speech, panel after panel, and then day after day. It is as difficult to digest as it is relentless.
In my mind I was still going over the twisted talk by Oren Ben Dor as I had breakfast. And was replaying the outrageous comments by Ghada Karmi as I walked towards the venue for the second day. When you go to anti-Israel meetings you become accustomed to ludicrous comments, but these people are academics. What on earth was Kharmi doing suggesting Palestinians are the real descendants of the Jews?
Three central pillars of Cork
Just as was originally intended at Southampton, Ben-Dor had split up the conference into three areas of discussion. Legitimacy (showing Israel has no legitimacy), Exceptionalism (showing Israel is an Apartheid Settler colonial state) and responsibility (the ‘what to do about it’ section).
The first day had seen the discussion of legitimacy, so today was all about how disgusting a nation these anti-Israel activists think Israel is. Each of the papers were rancid, none more so than the one by Shalhoub-Kevorian, that dealt with children and what were described as ‘death zones’. It was little more than a desperate and despicable attempt by an activist to use children as an academic sympathy toy.
The non-loving Zionist mothers
Then came the questions. Just as was the case yesterday, a vicious antisemitic question went unanswered. This one was truly vile. Be prepared to read this twice:
It suggested Zionist parents *deliberately* starve their children of affection in order to create the internal callousness necessary to do what Israelis apparently do to Palestinians.
As it went unanswered by the panel, there were protests from two members of the audience, who demanded to know why such a question was not rejected outright. Just as with a similar question the day before, this question removed the humanity from Israelis, and by failing to respond, the panel were indirectly legitimising the question.
As the two expressed absolute outrage at the suggestion Zionist mothers deprive their children of love to ‘breed killers’, members of the audience, including I believe, Claire Short, expressed dismay that these people were vocally disrupting the event. ‘Behave yourselves’ was the cry. Not for the first time recently, I sat as a witness as Jews were expected to sit quietly and simply swallow unacceptable antisemitism and were then berated for speaking up against it. Simply horrendous. A whole room full of people, and only two people spoke up, and when they did, there was an attempt to belittle and silence them.
One of the two walked out in disgust as it appeared for a while if the panel answered the question in the affirmative. She had also been visibly insulted by a member of the panel. After a while, it was suggested the question was misunderstood,and the situation calmed down. How there seems to be a trait of misunderstanding such questions is beyond me. We all heard it and it seemed straightforward to us. Still, if you suggest you misunderstood, it becomes an easy ‘get out of jail free’ card.
Another speaker used the term ‘untermenschen’ to describe Israeli attitudes towards Palestinians. A deliberate and vile reference of course to Nazi Germany and their attitude towards Jews. During the Q&A session an anti-Israel activist spoke up suggesting such comparisons do their cause no favours. A moderating comment truly appreciated by the handful of Zionists in the room. He received light applause from maybe 10 of the attendees. This however was not going to go unanswered, and Ghada Karmi once more took to the floor. Not only was such terminology acceptable she said, it was ‘understandable’. She went on to say it was important to describe it as such, and argued it played to an ‘agenda’ if such terminology was restricted. Karmi went on to suggest there is “no other way to describe” Israeli attitudes to Palestinians.
It probably can be said without causing surprise that Karmi’s more extreme and particularly vile comments received loud applause. This is the way such events pull people towards extremist positions. Not everyone in the room is full of hate, but it spreads like a poison, infecting previously unaffected individuals. Rather than moderation receiving the loudest applause, extremism does. And as this conversion takes place, the more moderate voices become ever more scarce in the room.
The agency issue
The last panel session at Cork today saw the conference begin to address the question of ‘advocacy’ and what measures need to be taken to further the Palestinian position. This panel gave light to a truly desperate scenario. And it is here that the problem with this anti-Israel advocacy is laid bare.
Firstly it is built on fiction. As the ‘academic’ activist lawyer stands in front of the delegates and begins to spin the usual propaganda stories about 90%+ of the land in 1948 belonging to Palestinians, or neglects to deal with the complexities of UN resolution 181, or fails to acknowledge Arab violence in early 1948, he reduces the Palestinian argument to a schoolyard joke. This type of propaganda story may capture a few naïve hearts in the Cork County Hall, but it won’t win any legal action. This nonsense would simply fall at the first hurdle. Yet they use these very propaganda issues as the basis for the discussion.
Then there is the deliberate vagueness. This is a disunited bunch who see little eye- to eye beyond an intense dislike of the Jewish state. They do not have a formula, a joint strategy and would disagree on almost every issue of substance they attempted to build a consensus upon. Just like the vagueness of BDS, this is a deliberate part of the anti-Israel alignment and seeks to avoid any subject of disagreement. This works for as long as they are simply united against the Israeli position, but counts for nothing as a constructive strategy.
And finally there is a major problem with agency. Academics at Cork such as John Reynolds, or Jeff Handmaker live comfortable lives in the west. They align themselves with Arab voices, but in general, these Arab voices are the international face of Palestinian activism. Relatively well-off Arabs, who also live in the west. These two groups then align themselves with NGO’s who act out of self-interest, with little or no urgency of finding a best fit solution for the Palestinians who are actually paying a price for the ongoing conflict.
Those Palestinians who actually might be willing to negotiate and settle for a compromise that would allow everyone in the region to move forward have absolutely nobody representing them. Instead single minded extremists persuade those that sympathise with the Palestinians that the only option is the perpetually failing ‘all or nothing’ strategy.
An awful situation
So the conference at Cork doesn’t just provide a playground for twisted voices such as Oren Ben-Dor to play out his own internal issues to a large and appreciative audience, it cements extremism and works against all and any moderate voices that may truly be seeking a better alternative for all the people caught in the conflict. I had several good conversations at Cork, but in general those I spoke to could not understand my opposition to the Cork conference at all. It is true that not everyone present is lost to blind hatred, but it is also true that the forces at work here will only help to push peace further away. Given how much pointless agony has already been caused, that is a truly awful situation.
I am back in the hotel now. I need to prepare myself for the last day.
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