Activists to Waldorf-Astoria: Cancel Friends of IDF fundraiser

As 13 organizations working for human rights, social justice, and peace, we demand that The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan rescind its agreement to host the 18 March fundraiser for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The Israeli military has historically been a flagrant violator of human rights and international law as demonstrated by the recent attacks on Gaza that killed over 100 Palestinians, the 2006 attack on Lebanon, and the 60-year assault on and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

We call on The Waldorf-Astoria to adhere to standards of corporate social responsibility that prohibit support for violators of laws and human rights. Among other activities, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces explains on its website that it helps to establish and renovate facilities on Israeli army bases. We are shocked that a respected institution like The Waldorf-Astoria would host a fundraiser benefitting a foreign armed group, especially one guilty of egregious human rights violations. We question if The Waldorf-Astoria would facilitate fundraising for armed groups from other foreign countries.

The human rights violations committed by the Israeli military over the past 60 years are severe. Last week the respected Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, reported that, “From 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to the [Israeli] Chief of Staff’s contention that ninety percent were armed, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded.” Furthermore, during the recent fighting, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened Gaza’s people with “a bigger holocaust.”

As Human Rights Watch noted in a detailed 2005 report, Promoting Impunity, “The Israeli military has fostered a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate whether soldiers have killed and injured Palestinian civilians unlawfully or failed to protect them from harm … Israeli forces have killed or seriously injured thousands of Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities. However, the Israeli authorities have investigated fewer than five percent of the fatal incidents to determine whether soldiers were responsible for using force unlawfully. The investigations they did conduct fell far short of international standards for independent and impartial inquiries.”

While we grieve for all the Israeli military’s recent Palestinian and Lebanese victims, we note with sadness that the Waldorf-Astoria event falls days after the fifth anniversary, on March 16th, of the army’s killing of US civilian Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli-army-operated Caterpillar bulldozer while blocking the demolition of the home of a Palestinian family in Gaza.

The 18 March fundraiser praising a military that has conducted a 41-year occupation also falls a few hours before the fifth anniversary of the attack and occupation of Iraq by the United States, Israel’s closest ally and provider of military aid. Israel and US military occupations of Palestine and Iraq and their accompanying human rights abuses are not causes to celebrate. We must pressure these governments to end both military occupations.

The Israeli military also enforces a discriminatory, apartheid system. For example, in the West Bank the army is directly involved in the seizure of Palestinian land to build colonial settlements for Jews only as well as Israel’s wall, all in violation of international law. Palestinian communities which have conducted long nonviolent campaigns to prevent the seizure of their land like Bil’in, Budrus, Biddu, Beit Liqya, al-Zawiyya, Jayyous and Um Salomona, have suffered ten deaths and hundreds of injuries at the hands of the military. Since 1948, in violation of international laws guaranteeing refugee rights, Israel’s military has prevented the return of the over 800,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants, now numbering in the millions, who were driven from their homes by Jewish militias and the Israeli army.

In Lebanon, Human Rights Watch reported in September 2007 that “Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes … caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war.” A February 2008 report by Human Rights Watch “found that Israel violated international humanitarian law in its indiscriminate and disproportionate cluster munition attacks on Lebanon.” Israel dropped “as many as 4.6 million submunitions across southern Lebanon … the vast majority over the final three days of the war when Israel knew a settlement was imminent … causing long-term and large-scale disruption of the largely agricultural economy,” and “about 200 civilian casualties since the war’s end.”

Finally, as many of our groups have recently affirmed, Israel’s ongoing use of US weapons to enforce an illegal military occupation and to commit human rights abuses places it in violation of US law, specifically the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act.

Corporations have a responsibility to uphold human rights and international law. In light of the Israeli military’s longstanding and repeated failure to respect accepted laws and norms, we call on The Waldorf-Astoria to rescind its decision to host the 18 March fundraiser for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Undersigned organizations:
Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee-New York
Arab Muslim American Federation
Combatants for Peace
Jews Against the Occupation-NYC
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Council of Arab-Americans - Metropolitan New York Chapter
Palestinian American Congress - New York
Rachel’s Words
Troops Out Now Coalition
United for Peace and Justice
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
WESPAC Foundation

This press release was edited for clarity.