By Amb. Richard Schifter Feb. 5, 2014 - Anti-Israel activists seeking to impose boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel have been active on college campuses and among U.S. church groups for several years, but the media paid little attention until two months ago, when the American Studies Association adopted a resolution endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Although the ASA has fewer than 5,000 members (of whom only 1,252 voted for the resolution), its call for a boycott drew wide media coverage. The Modern Language Association followed soon after with a similar resolution. These actions stirred many university presidents and academic leaders to issue public statements making clear their opposition to academic boycotts.
The UN Committee and Division that organized the Boycott-Israel Campaign
What is not generally known is that the BDS campaign against Israel was launched in Paris in 2005 at a meeting sponsored by the UN Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) with the organizational work for the meeting undertaken by the Division for Palestinian Rights in the UN Secretariat (DPR), which functions as CEIRPP’s staff. These UN institutions have very cleverly created a “civil society” (non-governmental organizations) front for their anti-Israel propaganda effort. They invited representatives of 48 NGO’s to a two-day meeting at which these representatives were presented with a UN-prepared “Plan of Action” against Israel which was modeled on the boycotts, divestment and sanctions program that had played a key role in ending the apartheid-regime in South Africa.
The NGO’s adopted the proposed program and were assured by the CEIRPP officer who presided over the meeting that it was understood that “maintaining contacts and coordination with those living far apart [the participating NGO’s] could be difficult.” For that reason use would be made of the “many tools that could link civil society organizations around the world together, such as meetings and conferences organized by the Committee and the web site and e-mail list maintained by the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat.” In other words, the participating NGO’s were assured that the two UN entities, CEIRPP and DPR would do the job of worldwide coordination of the anti-Israel BDS program.
ASA members were clearly not aware of the involvement of these UN bodies: the ASA resolution states that ASA wanted to “honor the call of Palestinian civil society.” In fact, CEIRPP and its DPR staff have cleverly created a “civil society” front for the anti-Israel propaganda effort in which they engage in violation of the letter and the spirit of the UN Charter.
CEIRPP is a Committee created by the UN General Assembly in 1975, at the time of the adoption of the “Zionism is Racism” resolution. In keeping with the principles of the UN Charter, the Committee, which now has 26 members, should, be a politically neutral body. But it was not created to be neutral. The General Assembly mandate under which it operates calls upon CEIRPP “to extend its cooperation and support to Palestinian and other civil society organizations and parliamentarians in its work in order to mobilize international solidarity and support for the Palestinian people.” In other words, the UN Charter notwithstanding, CEIRPP’s job is to take the Palestinian side in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. (Its mandate and funding authorization is extended year after year over the opposition of the United States.)
CEIRPP relies for staff support on DPR, a division located in the UN Secretariat. All other staff work done by the UN Secretariat is done under the supervision of the Secretary-General, who, together with Deputy Secretaries-General, has responsibility for the management of UN affairs, in keeping with the policy determinations of the UN General Assembly. In the case of staff work done for CEIRPP, however, we are dealing with another unique arrangement. DPR is under the direction of CEIRPP and does not report to the leadership of the UN Secretariat.
DPR’s staff consists exclusively of employees of the UN. Their salaries and other costs of DPR operations are paid out of the UN budget allocation to the Secretariat. But, as distinct from the divisions which report to the Secretary-General and are managed by the leadership of the Secretariat, it has a specific mandate from the General Assembly: “to organize international meetings and conferences in various regions … to ensure, within existing resources, the continued participation of eminent persons and international renowned experts in these meetings and conferences, … to liaise and cooperate with civil society and parliamentarians, … to develop and expand the ‘Question of Palestine’ website … to prepare and widely disseminate publication and information material on the Question of Palestine …”
The “Plan of Action”
The UN-sponsored and UN-managed BDS meeting in Paris in 2005 concluded its two-day session with the adoption of what was obviously a pre- cooked “Plan of Action” directed against Israel.
Under that Plan the participating organizations declared: “Our work to end the occupation of Palestine remains our solemn commitment. We will work with solidarity campaigns, with civil society organization, with parliaments, with governments and with the United Nations itself, especially the General Assembly Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Right, to build a movement strong enough to end the Israeli occupation.” The stated objective of this UN-sponsored program was not to foster friendly bilateral relations between Israel and the Palestinians that would lead to a peace agreement. Its goal was to compel Israel to “end the occupation” unilaterally, without the assurance of peace.
That goal, ending the occupation was to be achieved through BDS: “We recognize that, as an international network, our strength, lies in our ability to work collectively, in unified campaigns and actions. To that end, we urge international, national, and regional social movements, organizations and coalitions to support the unified call of Palestinian civil society for a global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to end the occupation and fully comply with international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions. We have identified the coming year to mobilize for and inaugurate this BDS campaign. We call on our partner organizations to intensify all our activities, focusing on the BDS campaign so that together we will end the Occupation.”
Aware of the one-sided anti-Israel theme of the Plan, its drafters came up with a trick to overcome criticism of bias: “Civil society actors in Europe must work with their Israeli counterparts to ensure that their struggle was not dismissed as anti-Semitic.” It was in keeping with that game of deception that DPR had invited to the Paris meeting two Jewish Israelis, representing far-left organizations.
As noted earlier, the CEIRPP chairman of the Paris meeting assured all those present that overall responsibility for managing the Plan of Action was to be assumed by CEIRPP and DPR, thus by the UN.
Plans for a Step-up in the BDS Campaign
The UN-sponsored BDS campaign has thus been underway for close to nine years. While it has drawn increasing attention, it clearly has not reached its intended objective, the weakening of the Israeli economy. It is for that reason that those whose political goal it is to weaken Israel’s economy are eager to improve the effectiveness of the BDS campaign. They are aware of the fact that a UN-led BDS campaign did serious damage to apartheid-South Africa and believe that adoption of a program similar to that which succeeded against apartheid-South Africa should now be put in place against Israel. That is why they intend to engage the United Nations in a significant step-up in the current BDS campaign.
It should be noted that Secretary Kerry has insisted that while the current peace negotiations are underway, the Palestinian leadership should not initiate a new anti-Israel program at the UN. The remarks that the Secretary made in Munich on February 1, which have been grossly misunderstood, indicate that he, too, believes that if the negotiations are not successful, we can expect a major BDS effort against Israel at the UN. It is most likely that this anti-Israel effort will call for the clear endorsement of BDS by the UN General Assembly, rather than merely by CEIRPP, and a major increase in the funding of the BDS operation run out of the UN Secretariat’s Division for Palestinian Rights.
While all persons of good will should continue to hope for the success of the peace negotiations, it is important to be ready to respond to an effort to make expanded use of the UN in fostering boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
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