Little Blue Boxes for Apartheid? So Say Johannesburg Protesters

A little bit of Durban has come to Johannesburg.

Mirroring the efforts of anti-Israel demonstrators to prevent Jewish groups from participating in sessions of last year’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, pro-Palestinian demonstrators disrupted an ecological workshop Wednesday by Keren Kayemeth Leisrael-Jewish National Fund at the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

Despite the pro-Palestinian interruptions — the fracas at the JNF workshop was one of several since the conference opened Monday — Palestinian activists have been unable to take over the conference, as they did last year at the anti-racism conference.

The workshop highlighted the JNF’s professional expertise in areas relevant to the environmental summit, as well as ways the organization could help other countries.

More than 150 people crowded the workshop premises, designed to hold no more than about 80. About one-third were pro-Palestinian delegates to the nongovernmental portion of the summit.

As the workshop started, Uri Davis, a pro-Palestinian Israeli activist who wrote the book, “Israel: An Apartheid State,” tried to interrupt the proceedings by raising a procedural point. Davis was brought to South Africa by anti-Israel elements both for last year’s Durban conference and this year’s summit.

The workshop chairman wouldn’t allow Davis to proceed.

Yehiel Leket, world chairman of the JNF, said the purpose of the workshop was for JNF experts to present Israeli experiences with sustainable development.

“Our line here is that we are not involved in politics and do not want to get drawn into politics,” Leket told JTA. “We have much to share on sustainable development. So far we have managed to keep it that way. Coming here only as a professional body has borne fruit.”

There has been significant interest in what JNF has to offer, both from governmental representatives — from the United States, Germany and even Oman — as well as NGOs, Leket said.

Members of the JNF technical team spoke on the use of scarce water resources, rehabilitation of degraded areas in the Negev, sustainable biodiversity and ecological forest renewal.

Team member Paul Ginsberg was using a 1930s photograph to illustrate the need for creating new forests when a demonstrator came to the front of the room and shouted that the picture had been taken on the West Bank in what was then Mandatory Palestine.

When security officials removed the protester, Palestinian supporters began chanting “Free, free, Palestine,” and “Free, free, West Bank.”

The Jewish Agency for Israel said the demonstrators were led by the lawyer for Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian militia leader jailed in Israel while awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

Minor scuffles ensued as police removed the demonstrators, allowing the presentation to continue after a 30-minute delay.

During the presentation, demonstrators distributed anti-JNF propaganda. One document, issued by the Movement Against Israeli Apartheid In Palestine, alleged that over 700,000 trees were uprooted in one year in “Israeli- occupied Palestine” and demanded that the conference disqualify the JNF, which it called “the mainstay of Israeli apartheid.”

A second document, called “Factsheet Jewish National Fund” and issued by LAW — The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, accused JNF of helping to carry out the Jewish state’s “undeclared aim of getting rid of Israel’s indigenous population.”

JNF executive member Zvi Lidar said JNF expertise could be useful to many countries, particularly in Africa.

“We are committed to remaining focused on the critical issues of sustainable development,” he said. “But the Palestinians are coming here and polluting this conference.”

On Thursday, the Jewish Agency will introduce an initiative for an international Jewish environmental group, the agency said in a press release.

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