Pressure has continued to mount on organizers of a major international conference on genocide to move the venue from Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, a South African organization announced it was pulling out of the conference, organized by the International Network of Genocide Scholars, because of concerns over Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights.
But organizers and sponsors have ignored or rebuffed the appeals from hundreds of scholars, dozens of civil society groups and at least one former UN human rights official to move the conference.
A current UN official, the special advisor to the secretary general on genocide, is still scheduled to speak at the conference.
On 26 June, the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INoGS) is set to convene its 5th Global Conference on Genocide at Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, some of which was constructed on land that Israel forcibly expropriated from Palestinians in East Jerusalem after it militarily occupied the West Bank in 1967.
Hebrew University directly participated in the ongoing removal of Palestinians in subsequent years, sending its own bulldozers to demolish their homes as recently as 2000 and threatening to displace even more families to expand dormitories in 2004.
Back in March, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) urged scholars and UN officials to boycott the conference over its partnership with Israeli academic institutions that are deeply complicit in Israel’s human rights violations.
At least 270 academics from 19 different countries have heeded that call and signed their names to a letter calling on conference organizers “to act in a principled way” and relocate the event to another country.
By holding its conference in Jerusalem, INoGS “is lending its name and reputation to Israel’s occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestine,” the letter states. “The significance of all this cannot be lost on genocide scholars.”
The letter also urged “scholars and professionals to reflect upon the ethical and legal implications of participating in a conference, organized by complicit institutions and taking place in a colony on occupied land and to boycott this event, should it go ahead under these circumstances.”
“ ‘Never again’ means never again for everyone,” the letter concludes.
According to PACBI, the conference organizers have ignored all appeals to cancel the conference.
INoGS did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Electronic Intifada.
“Genocide studies is now complicit”
John Dugard, a former UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and a signatory to the letter, expressed shock at the conference location.
“There are serious allegations that Israel committed crimes against humanity in its 2014 assault on Gaza,” PACBI quoted him as saying in a press release. “In these circumstances it is highly inappropriate to hold a conference on genocide in Israel.”
John Docker, a professor of genocide and massacre studies at the University of Sydney, added, “Genocide studies is now, it seems clear, actively seeking opportunities to be complicit in Israel’s flouting of international law, not least the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Haidar Eid, an academic who lives in the besieged Gaza Strip, slammed INoGS for colluding with his oppressors.
“I have witnessed three massacres committed by Israel, I almost lost my own life and saw my comrades, colleagues, relatives and students perish in them,” Eid said. “I have read with agony the names of 44 of our students and colleagues who lost their lives and 66 families wiped out by Israeli weapons.”
“INoGS is lending its name to the perpetrators of these crimes in a move that is not unlike holding a conference on racism in apartheid South Africa,” Eid added.
Indeed, Israeli universities are enthusiastic participants in Israel’s war machine at every level, from the development of military policy to shouldering the costs of bombing campaigns.
Hebrew University, which will host the INoGS conference, was one many Israeli institutions to reward “warrior students” who took part in Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 550 children.
UN stamp of approval
One of the scheduled conference speakers is Adama Dieng, special adviser on the prevention of genocide to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Last month, more than two dozen civil society and human rights groups from around the world published a letter urging Dieng to withdraw from the conference.
“Both the location of the INoGS conference and its attendance are incompatible with your mandate, which strives to protect populations from the worst international crimes,” the letter states.
“Palestinian and international human rights organizations are currently in the process of presenting evidence of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, including compelling evidence of international crimes with close associations to genocide, such as murder, forcible transfer and persecution,” it adds.
Participation in the conference “would represent tacit acceptance of Israeli-perpetrated grave breaches of international law,” the letter states, urging Dieng not to take part unless the conference is relocated.
Dieng’s participation is all the more remarkable at a time when is Israel is being led by the most openly racist government in its history.
Dieng did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s requests for comment.
One of the conference sponsors is the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a left-wing German institution that checks its progressive politics at the door when it comes to Palestine.
The foundation calls itself “one of the largest political education institutions in Germany today and sees itself as part of the intellectual current of democratic socialism.”
The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, or BNC, wrote to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation asking it to withdraw its funding for the conference so as “not to undermine Palestinian rights under international law.”
The BNC received a response from the foundation which it has not published.
Based on the BNC’s side of the correspondence seen by The Electronic Intifada, it would appear that the foundation justified its sponsorship by invoking German guilt for the Holocaust.
“[W]e are not convinced that German exceptionalism (“special history and responsibility”) exonerates Germany and German institutions of complicity in maintaining and covering up illegal acts,” the BNC wrote in response to the foundation’s refusal to budge.
Such “exceptionalism,” PACBI noted, “has translated in exceptional German treatment of Israel as if the latter were above international law.”
The conference is also co-sponsored by five other Israeli institutions that PACBI wrote “have been irrefutably and persistently implicated in Israel’s violations of international law.”
In a statement to The Electronic Intifada, PACBI highlighted the contradictions in proceeding with the conference as planned.
“The 2016 INoGS conference will theorize about genocide and histories of mass violence while willfully ignoring the very real role of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in forcefully displacing Palestinian families from their homes to make way for the campus where the conference is being held,” PACBI said.
The statement continued, “The decision of INoGS leadership to reject appeals from Palestinians and hundreds of academics for the conference to be moved on the basis of its complicity with Israel’s crimes strikes as deeply hypocritical and epitomizes all that is wrong with ivory tower academia.”
On Wednesday, South Africa’s Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation announced its withdrawal from the INoGS conference.
BDS South Africa said the move came after it contacted the center urging them to pull out.
According to BDS South Africa, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation wrote to conference organizers that it “had failed to carefully consider the ramifications of its participation when it initially registered for the conference.”
A staff member had been scheduled to give a presentation.
“While we saw the INoGS conference as an opportunity to share our work and learn from others, we cannot turn a blind eye to the nature of the location and the host institutions for the conference,” the South African center wrote. “Serious concerns about these issues have been raised by Palestinian human rights groups.”
PACBI welcomed the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation’s decision as a demonstration of “admirable consistency with its mission of social justice, sustainable peace and human rights,” and urged other participants to follow its lead.