From Durban to the Goldstone Report: The Centrality of Human Rights NGOs in the Political Dimension of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Disproportionate and unsubstantiated allegations of human rights violations, war crimes and racism have been employed as a form of political warfare designed to isolate Israel internationally. This strategy, based on the model used to defeat the apartheid government in South Africa, was adopted in 2001 at the NGO Forum of the UN-sponsored Durban Conference on racism, in which 1500 organizations participated. Since then, as demonstrated in this article, many human rights NGOs have consistently supported the political agenda of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose members dominate the UN Human Rights Council. In the decade following the Durban conference, the NGO network has issued frequent condemnations of Israel based on false or unverifiable allegations of human rights abuses and ‘war crimes’. The NGO campaigns, led by international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are central in this process, from Jenin (2002), through the UNHRC’s Goldstone Report on the Gaza war (2009). Journalists, academics, diplomats, political leaders, and legal officials in liberal Western democracies frequently cite these generally unsubstantiated allegations in condemning Israeli policies, reflecting the ‘soft power’ of these NGOs acting to reinforce the Palestinian narrative and the objectives of the OIC.

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