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.
Live from @matisyahu’s performance at the @UN. #StopBDSpic.twitter.com/iKUkU2FfoU— Ambassador Danon (@dannydanon) May 31, 2016
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum .