Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein’s speaking engagement at the British Zionist Federation meeting was canceled a day after he called Israel an “apartheid state.”
Rubenstein, the newspaper’s Arab affairs editor and a member of its editorial board, told an audience of some 350 at a United Nations committee on Palestinians conference in Brussels that “today Israel is an apartheid state with different status for different communities.” His speech at the European Parliament noted the “different status” for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel, according to a summary 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 reportedly said, “Hamas won the election of the international community and Israel cannot ignore that,” and that the security fence Israel was building could not be justified.
Rubinstein could not be reached for comment, but the British Zionist Federation said it confirmed his quotes cited in a JTA Aug. 30 news report. That led to the cancellation of the speaking engagement, described as a “mutual decision” by the federation.
The group’s chairman, Andrew Balcombe, said in a statement: “Criticism of Israeli policy is acceptable. 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 federation’s conference, titled “Israel at 60,” was held Friday to Sunday in London.
Rubinstein made his comments about Israel at a forum that nongovernmental organizations supporting Israel such as B’nai B’rith, UN Watch and NGO Monitor have described as pure “Israel bashing.” It was organized by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which the groups say has a long history of opposing Israeli interests.
Critics said the name of the gathering, The 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 about Israel presented their views.
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.”
Among the speakers at the event was British member of Parliament Clare Short, who reportedly said apartheid in Israel was worse than in South Africa. Short was quoted by observers as calling for sanctions against Israel. Several other speakers at the forum called for boycotts of Israel.