South African water conference called off amid protest at Israel’s role

Israel’s 2011 destruction of this reservoir in Hebron is one of many cases in which the Palestinians’ access to water has been severely curtailed. 

Najeh Hahlamoun APA images

A South African conference on water has been canceled following protests against the planned participation of an Israeli diplomat.

Arthur Lenk, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, was scheduled to take part in a “water summit” on 26 February.

Lenk’s involvement prompted one of the main speakers, Lorenzo Fioramonti from the University of Pretoria, to withdraw.

The conference was being organized by the Mail and Guardian newspaper, in cooperation with the South African government. It has now been called off.

Fioramonti, a political economist, said he believed it was “necessary” to support Palestinian and Israeli activists “seeking just and sustainable peace.” Backing Palestinian calls for an academic boycott of Israel, he issued a statement announcing his withdrawal from the conference.

As part of its “public relations” work, Israel has been promoting itself as a global leader in water technology. That has been exemplified by recent comments from the Israeli embassy in South Africa.

Despite the cancelation of the summit, Michael Freeman, the deputy ambassador, said Israel was “willing to share expertise to help South Africa with its drought problems.”

Notorious for stealing

In reality, Israel’s water policies are characterized by racism.

A 2013 report commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council found that Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank face “chronic shortages” of water, while nearby Israeli settlements enjoy a constant supply.

About 80 percent of all water drilled in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley is consumed by Israel and its settlements, all of which are illegal under international law. Many Palestinian wells and springs have dried up due to deep water drillings by Israel’s national water company Mekorot and agri-food companies.

Fioramonti argued that the discriminatory nature of Israeli water policies must not be concealed. “Hiding this through a pseudo-technical debate about water technology would be unacceptable,” he told The Daily Vox website.

Patrick Bond, a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, also said that Israeli diplomats should not have been invited to the “summit.”

In an interview with the Radio Islam channel, Bond argued that Israel was “notorious for stealing Palestinians’ water and also despoiling the water system.”




Thank you, South Africa. Israel needs to be banned, shunned, boycotted, divested from, and sanctioned at every opportunity. The world needs to do the right thing and condemn Israel for their savage war crimes against the Palestinians.


While I agree that Israel has developed its expertise in water conservation at the expense of the Palestinian population, nonetheless they are experts in the field and it would benefit South Africa to take advantage of the technical ability of Israel. No doubt the economic realities will trump the political stand of the academics, noble as they may be. Governmental and industrial deal making with Israeli firms must have an incentive for Israel to change its policies towards the Palestinians by encouraging behaviors that meet international norms and move away from the institutional apartheid in effect in the Palestinian Bantustans. Thus I suggest engagement with Israel but with clear policy mandates that if Israel is to do business in South Africa for instance, that there must be a measurable move to bring a just solution to the Palestinian crisis.


Only an absolute repudiation of Israel's apartheid is acceptable to decent people. Israel has broken every agreement and ceasefire they have ever engaged in and they are are immune to the "encouraging behaviors" you are suggesting. Only absolute and punishing boycotts, sanctions, and divestment will get Israel's attention.

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

The response to the acts of the crime of apartheid committed by the state of Israel should be that other states hold Israel to account. However, Israel can continue to commit international crimes with impunity. Europe’s soft approach of motivating Israeli governments to bring about change has had no effect. On the contrary, the situation of the Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza has worsened.

BDS, including an academic boycot, is a tool for conscientious organizations and citizens to act where their governments fail.

If South African water experts need foreign assistance, there are alternatives to Israel.


Absolutely agree Adri. Our governments have failed dismally to act or even to condemn their heinous acts and as you say, there are alternatives to Israel.


Something is missing from this story, Adri Nieuwhof. I don't understand how the withdrawal of a single person from the conference led to the conference being cancelled. Did the people putting on the conference decide to cancel because they invited the wrong person? Did the fact that the Israeli ambassador was planning to attend make people who had signed up to attend cancel their registration? I would appreciate a clarification.

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

The Mail & Guardian invited Lorenzo Fioramonti as a keynote speaker. He is the expert who predicted the draught in South Africa in 2014. The organizers had not fully informed Fioramonti about the program when they invited him.

After several requests, Fioramonti  finally received the details of the conference. He then learned about the role of the Israeli ambassador and the 50$ entrance fee.

Fioramonti announced his decision to withdraw from the confrerence in an official statement (link in article.)  The participation of the Israeli ambassador is stated as his first concern. The entrance fee was his second concern.

Fioramonti wanted to contribute to a serious debate which could identify issues which needed to be addressed to solve the situation.

A high entrance fee would exclude poor communities (who suffer from the draught) from a debate. 

The withdrawal from a widely respected expert like Lorenzo Fioramonti was a blow to the credibility of the conference. 

I recommend that you read the articles I refer to in my blog post.


Israel is set to continue its policy of ethnic cleansing with a diversionary news cycle coming up ctsy the US Presidential race hotting up. UN personnel on the ground already know there is an assault planned. Complicity runs deep, with accepting sans evidence all pretexts and token denouncement of planned escalation by all and sundry the norm. It is up to individuals and greater citizenry to bring our mute governments to not only voice, but register our protests, and damn the cost. Until then, reject anything even tangentially associated with the Zionist state. It's up to us to do our research and spread the word on what to boycott. To hell with the hypocrisy and double standard of criminalising boycotts. Your freedom is a lie if you can't exercise the right to make a choice on matters warranting action. The genocide is set to continue. One can only hope the US is forced to change its policy of aiding and abetting it. Sadly, its populace is kept occupied by concerns about its own water, race relations, basic medical care, manufactured domestic terror threats one can't question and must accept for fear of being labelled a traitor, and a whole lot of BS underwriting the fear of loss of a lifestyle pushed down its throat by a system that worships money and the wars required to make it. The dormant West never gets to see photos of Palestinian schoolchildren maimed by white phosphorus or any damning reportage of Israel's crimes - not war crimes, for it is invariably a one-sided assault. Good luck getting much out of the US or Europe, given the active post-9/11 program of demonising a whole faith. That said, kudos to these South Africans and numerous others taking a stand against Israel's murderous regime. They'll throw that facile Anti-Semitic charge at you, all the while butchering whole families. It falls to us to make them think twice about ever doing either.


Wholeheartedly applaud action taken by South Africa to cancel water conference. This was brought about due to principled stance of main speaker Lorenzo Fiorimonti and others and his withdrawal and refusal to take part.
Those committing international crimes masquerading as the Good Guys offering expertise is nothing more than a cynical PR trick to con public.
In the face of ever more pressure from so called Friends of Israel to remove democratic choice in actions and purchasing, #BDS is a light in the darkness which should be promoted and supported


While the world is getting global and united like the EU, and lately the American move towards Cuba, Israel wants to go back to dark ages when no tribe could put up with another
tribe with deadly fights for survival.

Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh