While Iran and several Arab delgations used the Durban II conference to condemn Israel as the world’s foremost racist state, pro-Israel events held on the sidelines garnered media attention, reframing the historical record of this week’s happenings.
Speaking at the “Rally for Israel, Human Rights, and Peace,” a conference hosted by more than 30 Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz delivered an impassioned speech defending Israel against unwarranted accusations and decrying the U.N.’s extreme anti-Israel bias.
Dershowitz discussed his latest book, “The Second Six Million,” in which he shows that six million people have been killed in genocides throughout the world since the Holocaust as the international community stood by in did nothing. He attributes much of the world’s inaction to over-focus on Israel, which has enabled the world’s dictators to change the subject when confronted with their own human rights abuses.
Dershowitz also argued that Israel’s army conducted itself in a just and proportionate manner while combating Hamas in the recent Gaza war. He decried Hamas’ many war crimes– hiding behind human shields as it deliberately targets Israeli civilians. Israel would be acting in a proportional manner if it had succeeded in stopping the rocket attacks, Dershowitz said. But Israel stopped short of that goal for humanitarian reasons.
This does not mean that Israel is exempt from criticism. Dershowitz himself chastised Israel for its use of white phospherous and cluster bombs. Israel, however, is an open society that has internal mechanisms for investigating abuses, and complaints against the government can be publicized without fear. The states that accuse Israel are the ones in more dire need of international scrutiny, he said.
Next to speak was a Canadian representative from the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He reminded the audience that Canada was the first to pull out of Durban II, has blocked anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N., and stopped funding Hamas. He said that Canada has long been a leader in the struggle against racism, citing its leadership against apartheid in South Africa.
The following panel discussion focused on “The Multicultural Face of Israel.” Ethiopian Israeli Pnina Gaday shared the inspiring story of her family’s journey to Israel and her personal search for an identity as an Israeli Ethiopian Jew. She said she is thankful for all the opportunities she has had in Israel that never would have been available to her in Ethiopia. Jamal Alkirnawi, Bedouin academic counselor for Arab students at Ben Gurion University, spoke about his decision to work for the betterment of his community as a full participant in Israeli civic life.
The next panel centered on “The Humanitarian Face of Israel.” Presenting the panel, Daniel Mariaschin of B’nai Brith International explained that Israel is not just a recipient of aid, but a provider throughout the world. Gal Lousky of Israeli Flying Aid discussed the organization she founded to provide urgent, humanitarian assistance all over the world, including to hostile areas such as Kashmir and Iraq. She said that her brother was severely wounded fighting in Lebanon and she was lightly wounded too, but chose to help the world, rather than to hate.
Dr. Sion Houri, co-founder of Israel’s “Save a Child’s Heart,” discussed this program which has saved the lives of more than 1,800 underprivileged children throughout the world, 49% of whom are Palestinian.
Next was a video presentation about the rescue of a young Sudanese refugee saved by Israel. Three year-old Venus Basheer got caught on a fence while fleeing from Egypt. The girl’s mother, Kikonjo Agustin Isdoro Tamer addressed the audience, thanking Israel for saving her daughter’s life and providing her family with assistance in building a new home.
Following the conference, buses left to the Place des Nations for a pro-Israel rally, entitled “Israel Wants Peace.” Natan Sharansky was the keynote speaker.