Conference Closing Statement
April 3, 2017 – Key points of note:
- With over 180 speakers and participants the conference was a landmark event, the first in a long time to consider the totality of issues affecting Israelis and Palestinians within the State of Israel and beyond.
- A number of participants addressed a central dilemma faced by the State of Israel concerning its own nature, rather than the better-known and more frequently discussed situation in the Occupied Territories. This dilemma concerns the 20% of the population of Israel itself which is Palestinian (Muslim or Christian) but which experiences widespread and systemic discrimination. As presently constituted, the State of Israel asserts that it is both Jewish and democratic. This leaves the unresolved question of the 20% referred to. If Israel is a ‘Jewish State’ but they are not part of the ‘Jewish nation’ how can they be full participants and fully represented and enjoy full rights and entitlements within that State? This is central to the future of Israel/Palestine, whether a one-state or two state solution is to emerge in the longer term.
- Apartheid is a strong term, but justified. Professor Richard Falk’s keynote speech highlighted the meaning of the term, derived from South African historical white rule and discussed his recently-published UN report (with Professor Virginia Tilley), immediately suppressed, which dispassionately considers this question in light of law and policy in Israel before concluding that the term is a justified one.
- A key aspect also discussed by the conference is the right of return. Jews worldwide have an automatic right to migrate to Israel, but Palestinians, including those expelled in and since 1948 and their descendants, have no such right. The conference considered the practical, legal and other aspects of this problem including detailed presentations from engineering, architectural and related perspectives.
- A central concern of the conference was the question of how international law might be used to achieve a just and lasting restoration of rights for Palestinians within the state of Israel and also considering Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the wider Palestinian refugee and diasporic communities. The view was expressed that, while Israel has relied up to date on the use of ‘hard power’, reflecting its geopolitical and strategic alliances on the world stage and notably the support of the USA, in the long term this would not provide a viable and just solution. Discussion focused on how international law could be used to chip away at the discrimination experienced by Palestinians and lay the ground for a lasting peace.
- The conference has been central to the major current shift in terms of thinking about international law in relation to Israel – i.e. the shift from the limited focus on legal checks and balances on occupation, to the need to view (and respond to) the situation through the broader international legal prohibitions on settler colonialism and apartheid. This is a crucial shift after fifty years of what clearly can no longer be excused as a ‘temporary’ occupation, more than seventy years of partition and a century of colonisation sanctioned by imperial policy.
- A notable and concrete result of the conference was the establishment of the ‘Cork working group’, an informal coalition of more than speakers and conference participants equally drawn from Israeli Jewish and Palestinian (from Israel itself and the Occupied Territories) to work to find a way forward.
- The conference took place against a backdrop of an organised and sustained campaign of denigration, smears and lies, designed to prevent it from proceeding. An anonymous fake twitter account, designed to look like the real one, was established and used to propagate personal insults, some libellous, directed at the organisers and speakers. It was also used to disseminate a wide range of outrageously anti-Semitic and Islamophobic statements and claims, with the obvious intention of blackening the reputation of the organisers. Attacks of an entirely unjustified nature were also made on the university authorities, on Cork City Council and on the professional character, reputation and good character of organisers and speakers.
- Much of the totally unjustified criticism and denigration directed at the conference was based on a simple premise: criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. The inconvenient fact that a large number of speakers and some audience participants were themselves Jewish, from Israel and from the Diaspora, was dealt with by the frequent use of the old slur ‘self-hating Jew’. In fact, however, organisers had made it clear from the outset that anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and the like were not welcome.