Assessment of the Nairobi Conference: Zionism and Apartheid Were the Main Objects of Concerted Attac
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Assessment of the Nairobi Conference: Zionism and Apartheid Were the Main Objects of Concerted Attac

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Although the script at the United Nations End of the Decade Women’s Conference in Nairobi called for a storyline that would raise the status of women while avoiding a dominating subplot of political rhetoric, Charlotte Jacobson, president of the Jewish National Fund and past national president of Hadassah, reported here that the issues of apartheid and Zionism stole the show.

“Since the Conference took place in Africa and there was an overwhelming amount of African delegates present, they were extremely keen to have their problems discussed, ” Jacobson, who recently returned from Nairobi, explained. “Therefore, apartheid was number one and the attack on Zionism and Israel, although strong, was second.”

In the opening statements and presentations at the official UN Conference, Maureen Reagan, head of the U.S. delegation, indicated in her remarks that she was not opposed to discussion on apartheid and the Palestinian question, but that she was against these political issues invading the feminist cause of the Conference.

Jacobson contrasted Reagan’s position with Margaret Papandreous, wife of the Prime Minister of Greece, who openly stated that everything discussed should be political — “That’s what we’re here for” — and then denounced Israel.

Jacobson conceded that, “As far as Israel and also the Jewish delegations from around the world were concerned, we came there with a very serious goal: we wanted to discuss Israel.”


But the Soviet and Arab blocs, who Jacobson found to be the two most aggressive proponents of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist slander, attempted to disrupt any session focusing on Israel. Jacobson recalled a particular workshop where one of the women doctors from Hadassah, in charge of community health, held a presentation in which she offered tangible advice to medical professionals from various countries.

When the fact that Israel has training programs and scholarships available was brought up, Jacobson charged that the Palestinians tried to interrupt the session by questioning how Israel could speak about community health when there were women in Israel who were refugees.

“The Palestinian delegation only came for one thing, “Jacobson asserted, “to use every session as an attempt to attack Israel and Zionism. Whatever session you went into, they went in to try to take over.”


Here and there, Israel and the Jewish delegates did have some successes as with the community, health affair. Jacobson said she was encouraged when the delegates from Africa and Asia started to bang on their desks and refused to allow the Palestinians to break up the session.

For the most part, the Israeli delegation was forced to weather an onslaught of incriminating accusations, such as a link of apartheid and Zionism. The 250 Jewish women countered by making positive presentations and by dividing up to cover different sessions and propose different points of view. Jacobson said that for the apartheid equation, “we pointed out that Israel is only giving one-half of one percent of the commerce with South Africa, ” and that many countries in Western Europe are involved in much higher trade with them. “No matter what was wrong in the world, they tried to pinpoint it on Israel, ” said Jacobson.

Maureen Reagan, however, would not allow Zionism to come under attack as an obstacle to peace. Because of the strong leadership of the U.S. and Kenya, which influenced many African countries, the word Zionism was omitted from the final document. Jacobson believes this was significant because “It was the first time in ten years that the Communist bloc and Arab bloc were not successful.”

Jacobson also noted a “great anti-U.S. atmosphere and, strangely enough, when you discussed an issue such as refugees from Afghanistan, which is an obviously Soviet problem, those delegates presented the issue and did not have the courage to attack the Soviet Union as they would have the courage to attack the U.S.”

The Soviet delegation made their theme peace, she continued, and suggested that the “American women have to push our government toward peace and have more demonstrations and marches as they have for peace.”


While the official Conference was mired in political controversy, the Non-Governmental Forum’85, which began a week before the Conference, dealt more with universal problems, such as battered women. “There were many constructive sessions, “Jacobson stated. “but some sessions unfortunately deteriorated into political fights.”

“In terms of setting goals,” she added, “the Forum was more productive. In terms of voting, the UN had the only right to pass a resolution, “which it was successful in doing.

As a result of the Nairobi Conference, Jacobson said she doesn’t see how “any of these countries can ignore the fact that there are women’s issues…Very few countries can brush aside the role women play in the development, the economy, and the progress of that country.” Continuing, Jacobson said:

“Many people ask me ‘Was it worthwhile when you know what you were up against?’ I’d say yes. You can’t avoid a fight; you can’t avoid your responsibilities of presenting your point of view … I have learned that we have to stop talking to ourselves — I mean the American Jewish people — we have to get out to the uninformed people, the general Americans. They hear so much of the attack against us that we have to see they learn the positive.”

While the storyline may have been sidetracked, Jacobson believes that the Conference was successful in focusing on the problems of women. Perhaps by the year 2000, the date set for a blueprint of projected accomplishments, concern for the status of women will be the main feature in every country, she said.

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