At a time when Israel reels from Great Britain’s academic boycott, the precedent of the Durban, South Africa, gathering of NGOs under the U.N. banner in 2001 – when renowned international, Israeli, Palestinian and International NGOs first gathered to unite behind the specious idea that Israel represents a racist apartheid entity – has not been forgotten. This week, Florence, Italy, hosts yet another mass meeting of NGOs, whose common political stance is that Israel represents an illegal and oppressive occupying power.

The fact that there is an NGO gathering in a European country with European Union delegates in attendance is not new.

Indeed, the EU, in coordination with leading NGOs, has just completed two weeks of intense public forums, demonstrations and activities around the world that have denigrated Israel for its victory in the 1967 war.

In the words of Dr. Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, “Many politicized and EU-funded NGOs that contribute to the demonization of Israel are holding activities and publishing reports coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 War. These activities portray a one-sided view of events, repeating the Palestinian narrative and providing a distorted history of the war.”

In its report “EU Funding of NGOs,” NGO Monitor details how a number of EU-funded Palestinian NGOs persistently campaign against Israel in international forums, employ biased rhetoric aimed at delegitimizing Israeli security policies and are fundamentally politicized organizations.

What is unique about the gathering of NGOs in Florence this week is that this conference is being organized by the Peres Center for Peace the day before the Israeli presidential elections.

The center’s namesake, Shimon Peres, is the leading candidate for that largely ceremonial post of Israeli president, which is supposed to be a nonpartisan position that represents a consensus of Israeli public opinion.

The keynote address at the event is being given by Avram Burg, described by the conference program as an “Israeli political personality,” despite Burg’s incisive interview in the Haaretz in which he calls for Israel to cease being a Jewish entity.

Each of the Israeli organizations invited – Bitselem, Combatants for Peace, the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), Machsom Watch, Parents Circle, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din – carries a particular venomous message that describes Israel’s very presence in Judea and Samaria as a criminal violation of international law. ICHAD goes as far as to compare Israeli law with Nazi law. Jeff Halper, the head of ICHAD, alleges that Israel’s zoning and building regulations are not ordinary laws and that Israel’s legal system is comparable with the Nazi Nuremberg laws. Halper has never retracted that statement.

Arab speakers at the conference include Fatah leaders Yassir Abed Rabo and Jibril Rajub, who will probably not mention that Fatah continues to conduct terror attacks against Israelis. No one at the conference will remind participants that the Al Aksa Brigade of Fatah is defined by the United States, the EU and Israel as a terrorist organization.

“There are a hundred and twenty organizations and we are energetically coordinating between the Israeli side and Palestinian side,” said Peres Center director and conference organizer Ron Pundak. “We think together and look ahead.” Pundak noted that “this is the first time that we have ever organized such a large conference. … We want to see how we can get Europe as a community to help us with the peace process.”

It should be noted that the Italian neo-communist party dominates the Tuscany province, which contains Florence. Pundak acknowledged that Peres was the pioneer of the Peres Center, that his legacy influences all of its activities and that Peres is the man who initiated this conference. When asked if Peres becoming president would advance the Peres Center for Peace, Pundak said, “I believe so, as the Peres Center represents the realization of Peres’ strategic thinking.”

“The Durban conference did not advance the cause of peace for Palestinians or for Israelis,” remarked the spokesman for the Israel Foreign Ministry. “And neither will those who continue to conduct such events in the future.” The spokesman later commented, however, that he would not have made such a statement had he known that this conference was organized by the Peres Center for Peace. This reporter had sent the full program to the spokesman, which he said had not read.

The question remains: In the vote for president of Israel, will the Knesset note the legacy of Shimon Peres, the man who conceived the “new Middle East”?

David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com

©The Bulletin 2007

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.

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