Many NGOs that claim to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict often use antisemitic themes and imagery to demonize the Jewish people and state of Israel. This “new antisemitism” is evidenced in NGO political campaigns based on the 2001 Durban Conference, including BDS and legal attacks (“lawfare”) against Israeli officials and companies that do business with Israel.

Contrary to NGO claims that they are engaging in “legitimate criticism” of Israel, the NGO rhetoric, publications, and activities often violate accepted standards, including the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism. However, despite the extensive evidence of NGO antisemitism, governments continue to fund these groups, often claiming that the funding is intended for distinct “projects” unrelated to the grantee’s wider agenda and expressions of antisemitism. However, funders are enablers, and share full responsibility for the activities of their grantees.

The ongoing government funding for NGOs that engage in antisemitic activities and use antisemitic rhetoric highlights the persistent double standard: Hatred of Jews is tolerated in a way that would be unthinkable for other racial, ethnic, or religious groups; moreover, Jewish and Israeli targets are often denied the right to define what constitutes discrimination against them.

IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

In May 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a new non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The Durban Strategy

In September 2001, the UN held the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, consisting of three parallel gatherings: an official diplomatic forum, a youth summit, and a massive NGO Forum. An estimated 7,000 delegates from more than 1,500 NGOs participated in the three-day NGO Forum, made possible by grants from the Ford Foundation and various governments.

The atmosphere and rhetoric at the NGO Forum featured a high level of vitriol. Israel was accused of perpetrating a “Holocaust,” Israeli soldiers were portrayed as Nazis, and antisemitism cartoons and images were distributed.

The NGO Forum’s final declaration condemned Israel’s “perpetration of racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide.” The document called for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state… the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation, and training) between all states and Israel.” The document also called for “condemnation of those states who (sic) are supporting, aiding and abetting the Israeli apartheid state and its perpetration of racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide.”

This plan of attack, or “Durban Strategy,” represents a shift in the war against Israel – from attempts to destroy Israel through military power and terror attacks, to a “soft power” political war aimed at erasing Israel through “non-violent” means.