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As Fence Hearing Approaches, Jewish Groups Prepare for Fight

February 4, 2004
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When the International Court of Justice holds hearings on Israel’s West Bank security fence later this month, it could become a repeat performance of Durban, Jewish activists fear.

The anti-Zionist agitation at Durban’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Sept. 2001 was so frenzied that Israel and the United States stalked out of the conference — and it shocked a Jewish world horrified by the virulence of the anti-Semitism on display.

In the end, Europe negotiated a compromise government resolution condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But a companion meeting of non-governmental organizations blasted Israel with a resolution damning the Jewish state for alleged apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution asking the International Court of Justice at The Hague to issue an advisory opinion on Israel’s West Bank security fence. The court will convene hearings on Feb. 23

Some Jewish activists fear the worst.

“We expect this to be like Durban — except worse,” said Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International.

While several activists say anti-Israel demonstrations outside the courtroom likely will be vitriolic, they call the court a venerable institution that will conduct its business respectfully.

The court’s opinion is non-binding. At stake, however, is the politicization of the international court, the possibility that countries will use a negative decision as grounds to sanction Israel and the fear that a court decision will prejudge a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Jewish officials say.

The Palestinians are “trying to get a lot more out of this decision than just a finding on some of the legal facts,” said Felice Gaer, director of international organizations at the American Jewish Committee. “They’re actually trying to go well beyond the issue of the fence into core issues of dispute with regard to the conflict.”

With that in mind, Jewish activists are gearing up for the hearings. Among the planned activities:

Jewish groups like B’nai B’rith and Israeli officials plan to hold press conferences at The Hague to counter expected polemics.

Zaka — the Israeli emergency services group that gives first-aid to victims of terrorism and gathers their body parts for Jewish burial — may bring the shell of a bombed-out bus to The Hague.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is due to meet Thursday with a group of legal experts to craft pro-Israel strategies in response to the hearing and ruling.

Amcha Coalition for Jewish Concerns plans to set up its own court outside The Hague and at the United Nations, mocking the ICJ proceedings as a sham, said Amcha’s vice president, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.

“What’s really going on here is old-fashioned anti-Semitism under the guise of European enlightenment,” Herzfeld said.

The board of the AJCommittee, currently on a mission abroad, is meeting with European diplomats and protesting the fact that the fence issue is going before the court.

Some activists feel bolstered by the fact that dozens of countries — including the United States, France, Germany and Russia — recently submitted briefs to the court, objecting to what they called political exploitation of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

“So far we are encouraged because about 40 countries, including most of the important democracies in the world, submitted briefs to the court saying that — while they don’t agree with Israel on the necessity to build the fence — nevertheless they don’t think the ICJ is the right way to deal with it,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “This is very important.”

Mekel and others say they have faith in the court.

There’s “no question that the Arabs intend to turn The Hague into another Durban” and “to put pressure on the court by making demonstrations,” he said.

But the court won’t be affected by the antics of Palestinian U.N. representative Nasser Al-Kidwa within the courtroom or of his supporters outside, Mekel said.

“I think they will look at the merits” of the case and the opinion of the countries against it, he said.

In the meantime, Israel and Jewish groups are preparing, hoping they can mount a more effective response than they did in Durban.

“If there will be demonstrations, if there will be attempts to turn The Hague into a Durban, there will be an Israeli response and a Jewish response,” Mekel said.

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