In September 2001, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights held a major conference in Durban, South Africa, ostensibly to mark the end of the apartheid regime. But the event, and particularly an “NGO Forum” attended by 5,000 delegates, was hijacked and turned into what some participants termed an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic carnival. In the final session, the leaders of the NGO Forum announced a plan to transfer the tools used in the anti-apartheid campaign to the dismantling of Israel, declaring the nation-state of the Jewish people guilty of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes.
Since Durban, a small but generously funded army of ideologues has sought to implement this strategy, seeking to persuade governments (particularly European) and international institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, to isolate and demonize Israel.
Michael Sfard is among the most energetic, passionate, and articulate warriors on this battlefield. As an Israeli fiercely opposing the policies of his own nation, he automatically gains credibility among some audiences. Over many years, he has waged war in the Israeli courts and, more important, in arenas around the world that specialize in anti-Israel campaigns.
Sfard’s weapon is international law—a nebulous, plastic, and readily manipulated commodity that has the feel and texture of real law (as practiced by lawyers and judges in individual nation-states), without the constitutional backbone.
His book The Wall and the Gate is a polemic, and there are no shades of gray or self-doubt. At no point does Sfard ponder complexities and contradictions, such as the absence of universality or reciprocity—two essential dimensions of any legitimate legal system. Thus, he glosses over the daily human-rights violations and war crimes committed by his “clients,” as he paternalistically refers to Palestinians, repeating the standard victimization myths. His references to the horrors of terror that have taken so many Israeli lives are minor and parenthetical. For example, in condemning the Israeli separation barrier that has prevented many terrorist attacks, he says, “there will come a day, maybe when the conflict is over, when Palestinians will