OpEd | Platform for delegitimization - World Jewish Congress

OpEd | Platform for delegitimization

 Maram Stern
Maram Stern
Executive Vice President, World Jewish Congress
OpEd | Platform for delegitimization

This editorial was originally published in Seite on 16 August. 

I understand that dealing with the Israeli government is not always easy for the German government. There are fundamental differences of opinion on key issues, such as the construction of settlements in the West Bank. And – as anyone who has ever been to Israel knows - the country has a lot to offer, but polite restraint is not always part of it, for Israelis are often very direct in their dealings. This should not be much different at the diplomatic level, I think. It can therefore be assumed that Israeli government representatives are very open in conveying their opinions and criticism to their German colleagues. And last, but not least, the current attacks by the Netanyahu government on the independence of the judiciary are exacting a heavy toll on German-Israeli relations.  

However, none of this changes Germany's lasting commitment to the only Jewish state. Israel was founded after the Holocaust to offer Jews from all over the world a safe haven after two thousand years of antisemitic discrimination, persecution and murder. In the face of growing antisemitism, the need for such a safe haven is as relevant today as it was in 1948, the year the Israeli state was founded. It is this concept or idea of the Jewish state that must be defended at all costs, despite all permissible criticism of the realities of Israeli policy. Because of its historical responsibility, no state should be more committed to this idea than Germany.  

However, it is precisely this idea that has been and still is in the crossfire of criticism. States such as Iran or Syria are not concerned with the fate of the Palestinians. Rather, the mere existence of a Jewish state is intolerable to them. Dictatorships from all over the world criticize Israel, not because they want real improvements, but to conceal their own miserable human rights record.  

Unfortunately, this was also noticeable in 2001, when the United Nations organized the "World Conference against Racism" in Durban. At least this time it was possible to prevent Zionism from being denigrated as a form of racism, for in 1975, the UN General Assembly had done exactly that, which the later UN Secretary-General later called a "low point in the history of the United Nations." Nevertheless, this joined a long history of anti-Israel decisions by the UN. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only one included in the final declaration, as if Israel were the world's worst violator of human rights.  

The Arab despots who lobbied for the inclusion of this passage may have genuine sympathy for the Palestinians, but they withheld and continue to withhold the most fundamental rights from their own people.  

Subsequently, "Durban" was used as a platform to delegitimize the Jewish state and promote antisemitism. At the follow-up conference in 2009, notorious Holocaust denier Mahmoud Achmadinejad delivered a diatribe against Israel that bristled with antisemitic stereotypes.   

All this shows that "Durban" did not achieve the laudable goal of fighting racism, but has become a tool in the hands of antisemites. In September, another resolution on "Durban" is to be discussed at the United Nations, and the unfortunate game will continue. 

For good reason, numerous countries, including Germany, boycotted the Durban follow-up conferences in 2009 and 2021. I hope for a similarly strong signal this year as well: the German government must reject the resolution in the UN General Assembly.