PRAGUE (JTA) – The British Zionist Federation canceled a London appearance by Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein the day after he called Israel an “apartheid state” at a United Nations conference on Palestinians.
Rubinstein, the Israeli newspaper’s Arab affairs editor and a member of its editorial board, told an audience of some 350 that “today Israel is an apartheid state with different status for different communities,” according to sources at the event, held at the European Parliament in Brussels.
He went on to say that Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel each had “a different status,” according to a summary of his speech by a United Nations Web site.
Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Schwammenthal told JTA he was so shocked by what he heard that he later confirmed the comment with Rubinstein.
“I asked him if he really thought Israel was in a state of apartheid and he answered ‘yes,’ ” Schwammenthal said.
Rubinstein also said “Hamas won the election of the international community and Israel cannot ignore that” and argued that the security fence Israel was building could not be justified, sources said.
The British Zionist Federation issued a statement Friday saying it had read about Rubinstein’s quotes in a JTA news report Thursday and verified the comments with him the next day. According to the Zionist federation, the result was a “mutual decision” to cancel Rubinstein’s event.
“Criticism of Israeli policy is acceptable,” the Zionist federation’s chairman, Andrew Balcombe, said in a statement. “However, by using the word ‘apartheid’ in a U.N. conference held at the European Parliament, Danny Rubinstein encourages the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people. I believe he was naive to attend the U.N. conference. Indeed his own newspaper Ha’aretz had earlier reported that Israeli and E.U. lawmakers had attacked the U.N. meeting for having a completely one-sided, anti-Israeli agenda.”
The Zionist federation’s conference, titled “Israel at 60,” was held Friday to Sunday in London.
Rubinstein, who did not return a call seeking comment, made his remarks during a forum that pro-Israel nongovernmental organizations such as B’nai B’rith, UN Watch and NGO Monitor described as Israel-bashing sessions run by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The pro-Israel groups say the U.N. committee has a long history of opposing Israeli interests.
Pro-Israel critics say the name of the U.N. conference, “International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestine Peace,” was misleading, as solutions for peace were not on the agenda and only speakers with harsh words for Israel were given an opportunity to present their views.
At this year’s event, attendees gave an ovation to members of the Neturei Karta, the fervently Orthodox sect that vehemently opposes Israel’s existence and participated in a highly publicized gathering of Holocaust deniers in Iran.
Observers said that during one workshop, Richard Kuper, spokesman of the London-based European Jews for a Just Peace, argued that Israel supporters emphasize the conflict in Darfur to direct attention away from Israel’s human rights violations. Several other speakers at the forum called for boycotts of Israel.
Seven members of the European Parliament published a letter to the International Herald Tribune Friday saying that “despite the neutrally sounding title of its conference,” it “has a proven record of anti-Israel bias, spreading propaganda that presents only the Palestinian narrative, including the delegitimization of Israel – a U.N. member state.”
Susanna Kokkonen, political director of the European Coalition for Israel, which represents five Christian organizations and works closely with members of the European Parliament who advocate Israeli interests, said the two-day conference last week had “an atmosphere that was thick with hate towards Israel.”
“I was most shocked to hear an editor from Ha’aretz condemn Israel in a way that was worse than the Arab speakers,” Kokonnen said.
Rubinstein shared the podium with British Parliament member Clare Short, who reportedly said apartheid in Israel was worse than in South Africa.
“Israel doesn’t want a two-state solution, and the E.U. is allowing the state of apartheid to continue,” she told attendees, according to several observers. “We have to start sanctions against Israel.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, an organization with ties to the American Jewish Committee, said that by agreeing to speak at the conference, Rubinstein was lending it legitimacy.
“It’s disturbing that a leading Israeli journalist is participating with a Soviet-era enterprise whose sole aim is to assault Israel morally, legally and financially,” Neuer said. “But that he would full-throatedly join the jackals and call Israel ‘an apartheid state’ is an outrage.
“Though Rubinstein was officially presented by the U.N. as a member of the Ha’aretz editorial board, we trust that the newspaper does not condone the delegitimization of Israel.”