The participation of Arab officials and institutions at a major Israeli security conference has drawn staunch criticism from Palestinian and human rights activists.
The annual Herzliya conference, which includes high-profile guest speakers focusing on Israel’s major security challenges, invited a number of key Arab speakers, including Jordan’s Prince el Hassan bin Talal and senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian chapter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel slammed Arab involvement at the conference as “an act of complicity in the promotion of Israeli occupation and apartheid.”
The conference, which is being held for the 12th year, aims at enhancing Israel’s national security through developing the country’s military and intelligence fields.
“The participation of any Arab speaker…[is] a move that undermines our struggle for freedom and our right to return and self-determinism,” Barghouti said.
The conference is being held under the name of “In the Eye of the Storm: Israel and the Middle East” and will be attended by Israeli and international speakers as well as several Arab political, business and academic figures.
Some of the most prominent participants also include Salman Shaikh, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, and Riad al-Khouri, a member of the International Council of Quest-scope in Amman as well as others.
“The Palestinian civil society calls on all Arab participants to immediately withdraw from the Herzliya conference and respect the demands of the majority of the Palestinians who fully support the BDS campaign,” Barghouti added.
Herzliya’s website listed Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) chief negotiator, as a speaker at the conference, but an official source told al-Akhbar that he was never invited to the conference and therefore will not be attending it.
The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official was the only member of the PLO to be invited to the Israeli conference, but declined the invitation.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon – who also wished to remain anonymous – declined to confirm who of the PLO was invited and would attend.
However, sources in Ramallah told Barghouti that Erekat had been invited to the conference, but withdrew following pressure from the Palestinian civil society.
“If true, this would crucially deny other Arab participants their Palestinian excuse,” Barghouti said.
“We hope that all Arab – and international – participants will withdraw from this shameful conference. Raising awareness about this form of Arab complicity is a key goal of our campaign.”
BDS campaigners aim to increase Israel’s international isolation and raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians suffering under Israeli military occupation.
“Our campaign for a boycott of the Herzliya conference is based on this meeting’s singular importance in building Israel’s strategy, especially in the security and military fields, to enhance its oppressive system of settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid,” he explained.
Barghouti said Israel is “keen to display” the Arab officials and figures at the conference since it “boosts its propaganda efforts and cover up its increasingly isolated regime.”
The BDS activist also condemned the participation of the Brookings Doha Center, whose director is participating in the event despite the institution working to cement itself in the Arab world.
An “academic endeavor should never justify complicity in covering up grave violations of human rights and international law,” Barghouti said.
“At a time when BDS is achieving spectacular successes and turning Israel into a world pariah, these Arab participants are knowingly colluding in Israeli propaganda efforts, siding with the wrong side of history.”
Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Doha Center failed to respond to an interview request before this story went to publish.