Twenty years ago, the world’s human rights community came to Durban, South Africa, for a conference called to eliminate racism and discrimination. This event took place just a few days after a Palestinian terror attack in Jerusalem killed and maimed Israelis in a pizzeria filled with teenagers and young families. But the thousands of self-proclaimed human rights activists at Durban did not mention the attack or the victims; for them, Israelis do not have human rights. Instead, the diplomats, United Nations officials and leaders of powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on demonizing Israel and Zionism.

Durban was the blueprint for the 21st century anti-Semitism. The Arab Lawyers Union distributed caricatures of Jews with fangs dripping blood, and delegates picked up copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” forgery. Well-organized mass marches through the streets, with placards declaring “Zionism is racism,” were accompanied by speeches denouncing Israeli “apartheid.” Arafat and his chief propagandist Hanan Ashrawi were flown in to denounce Israeli “apartheid.”

The plan to hijack Durban was formed months before, at a U.N. preparatory conference in Tehran. There, the strategy of equating Israel to apartheid South Africa was developed into a full-scale war plan. The NGO Final Declaration and Program of Action, composed in Tehran, was a strategy for political war. Israel was labeled as a “racist apartheid state,” guilty of “genocide” and “racist crimes against Palestinians.” They demanded that all countries implement policies for “the complete isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.”

Immediately after Durban, the same NGOs and U.N. allies moved to implement the strategy. Human Rights Watch led the other groups with allegations of war crimes following every Israeli response to terror, whether from Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The NGO Durban war has continued for 20 years, including the flood of “reports” recently on the apartheid lie. The European-funded organizations campaign for boycotts targeting Israeli universities and businesses, athletes and cultural events, often joined by church groups with classical theological anti-Semitic agendas, under the banner of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions).

The constant drumbeat from Durban has contributed significantly to violent anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. Recent statistics from the United States, Britain and European countries highlight the hate directed against Jews and Jewish or Israeli targets.

Nevertheless, the Durban framework remains on the U.N.’s permanent agenda. The one-day event in the U.N. General Assembly known as Durban IV was called so that officials and affiliated NGOs could celebrate their successes in this war of hate. To their credit, President Biden and the leaders of Canada, Britain and a number of European governments refused to participate.

But the anti-Semitism and obsession with Israel will continue, under the façade of human rights. Now, as in 2001, many of those who claim to speak in the name of morality and law continue to support the perpetrators of inhuman brutality, and erase the victims of terror and injustice. This is the legacy of Durban after 20 years.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of the Institute for NGO Research.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.


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