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NEW YORK — Thousands attended a conference opposing the BDS movement at the UN headquarters in New York.
The conference on March 29, sponsored by the World Jewish Congress and Israel’s mission to the UN, focused on ways to combat the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
Sessions concerned opposing BDS on campus, among private corporations, on social media and at the UN itself — a body Israel and the US have accused of being biased against Israel.
The conference also included a note of controversy, as a panelist accused attendees representing J Street of belonging to an anti-Semitic group.
Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon, opening the conference, criticized the UN Human Rights Council decision last year to create a so-called “blacklist” of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements.
“The halls of the UN are now being infiltrated by the boycott movement,” he said.
He called the blacklist effort “pure anti-Semitism” and said that “together with the US, our greatest ally, we will keep fighting until BDS is eliminated.”
Last month, a UN affiliate published a report accusing Israel of apartheid. But the report was removed from the internet soon afterward due to objections from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
During a question-and answer segment at the day’s final session, a Jewish student representing J Street U, the campus arm of J Street, asked how students can best oppose BDS on campus while also opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
South Carolina State Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Republican who has spearheaded legislative efforts to oppose BDS, responded by calling J Street anti-Semitic and rejecting the idea that the West Bank is occupied.
He called Israel’s control of the territory an “eternal inheritance and legal right.”
“I personally believe that the organization that you’re representing is an anti-Semitic organization that chooses to ignore the law and chooses to ignore reality in order to push back on Israel in the Jewish community,” Clemmons said to loud cheers.
“I stand by my words before that there is no illegal occupation.”
In an address closing the conference, Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, said that in order to combat BDS, the Jewish community needs to welcome left-wing and right-wing pro-Israel views.
His comments echoed a report Reut released this year in conjunction with the ADL that called for a bigger tent in fighting Israel boycotts.
“We have to be able to establish a unity of cause in spite of our diversity, and we have to be respectful to other opinions,” he said. “If we push each other out, there is zero chance of victory.”
In her speech to in the General Assembly hall, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said BDS efforts as well as anti-Israel activity at the UN “seek to deny Israel’s right to exist.” Haley has promised to use her position to defend Israel at the UN.
BDS and anti-Israel activity were “both extensions of an ancient hatred,” she said. “How tragic is it that of all the countries in the world to condemn for human rights violations, these voices choose to single out Israel.