Summary: This major gathering of NGOs associated with radical left-wing and anti-globalization causes included a wide range of extremist anti-Israel activities in its program.
On 15-17 October, London hosted the European Social Forum, a very large and well-publicized gathering of non-governmental organizations associated with radical left-wing and anti-globalization causes. The ESF is affiliated with the World Social Forum, whose meeting in India in January 2004 served as a vehicle for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement.
Despite organizers’ claims to be promoting peace in the Middle East, the ESF included a wide variety of very coarse anti-Israel activities in its program. That the ESF would be a major source of hatred and demonization, characteristic of the new anti-Semitism, comes as little surprise after a closer examination of some of the characters and organizations taking part. Chief among these is Belgian Senator Pierre Galand, the European Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP) and a central figure in anti-Israel NGO activities in the United Nations and Europe. Galand is a leader of the "South African strategy", designed to delegitimate Israel’s right to exist through insidious comparisons to South Africa under apartheid. This theme was also promoted by South African academic Dennis Brutus, who urged the ESF audience to support "boycotts, divestments, embargoes and sanctions". Brutus and Galand were also active at the September 2004 UN "International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People".
Indeed, the ESF session in London adopted the aggressive rhetoric of this UN event and of Galand’s ECCP, including "a unified policy of sanctions" against Israel. The ESF’s "Call of the Assembly of Social Movements" placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict near the top of its agenda, calling for "an end to the Israeli occupation and the dismantling of the apartheid wall" and for "political and economic sanctions on the Israeli government as long as they continue to violate international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people."
A number of highly politicized Palestinian NGOs were able to promote their agendas in the ESF framework. Mustafa Barghouti of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees reportedly stated to a large audience "Sharon must be put in jail". Other such participants included the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON), whose activities are usually not linked to "green" issues.
Other speakers and NGOs participated in sessions such as "The Apartheid Wall: Palestinian Resistance and European Solidarity" and "Palestinian Human Rights and International Law: Ending Israeli Violations, Defending the Right of Return", featuring Jeff Halper (Israel Committee Against House Demolitions). Despite his extreme agenda and rhetoric of demonization, which places him on the fringe of the Israeli political map, Halper is able to use funding from the EU and European governments to promote his private ideological agenda at gatherings such as the ESF.
In this atmosphere of incitement, a stall at the ESF belonging to the mainstream Union of Jewish Students had items stolen and litter dumped on its table in what was believed to be a racially motivated crime.
Although other ESF-affiliated NGOs Amnesty International and Oxfam did not participate in the anti-Israel activities at the conference, their involvement demonstrates the deep penetration of political issues under the guise of universal human rights claims in the ESF and other such ideological activities.