Anti-BDS Conference Takes Over a Most Unusual Venue — the United Nations

In March, the United Nations compiled a “black list” of Israeli companies doing business in the West Bank. In some pro-Israel circles, it appeared part of a larger trend: the UN singling out Israel for condemnation.

But on May 31, Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress hosted what they called the “first ever international conference” against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The venue? The United Nation’s General Assembly hall.

The U.N. had no official role, but for organizers the space was symbolic.

“This isn’t a sight you see everyday,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of the assembly room packed with Israel flags. On social media and in press releases, organizers emphasized the importance of the U.N. as a forum that, as they see it, has historically been biased against Israel or Israeli policy.

The conference, which drew more than 1,500 young professionals and students, aimed to “equip” them with practical tools to battle the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel by “training students to serve as ‘ambassadors’ against boycotts,” said Danon in a statement.

Featured in the conference, for example, were panels on “best practices to confront BDS on your campus” and “how to confront BDS from the legal perspective.”

“BDS is continuing to spread and seeks to utilize international institutions to implement its ideology of hate,” Danon said.

High-profile Jewish institutions sent representatives: Keren HaYesod, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, Israel Bonds, StandWithUs, B’nai B’rith International, Hillel and CAMERA, among others. Elyakim Rubinstein from Israel’s Supreme Court addressed the crowd. The musician Matisyahu sang a song.

Some pro-Israel proponents often gives “mixed signals” about the U.N., said Maia Hallward, author of “Transnational Activism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” in an interview with the Forward.

On the one hand, they question the legitimacy of the U.N. and on the other they hold events such as this one, in — as one organizer described it — the place where the “biggest decisions of the world are made.”

“Israel sees the U.N. and international organizations as a vehicle that has been used by those promoting BDS tactics,” said Hallward. The choice of venue, Hallward said, is a way of reframing the conversation.

“It is no accident,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement, that they chose to look at a “dishonest campaign against the Jews — the BDS movement — right here at the United Nations.”

Contact Sam Kestenbaum at kestenbaum@forward.com or follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum

Author

Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum is a staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at kestenbaum@forward.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Anti-BDS Conference Takes Over a Most Unusual Venue — the United Nations

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close