Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Controversial "Libraries and Human Rights" Conference

A few weeks ago, Librarians for Fairness alerted me to a conference being held in Ramallah, in the Palestinian Authority. Running from March 31 - April 2, the event, "International Conference on Libraries from a Human Rights Perspective", is designed to "highlight the importance of achieving human rights related to library work and these rights include: freedom of expression, freedom of access to information, tolerance, acceptance of the other, respect of diversity and cultural rights."

The conference is sponsored by an organization called the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies in cooperation with IFLA. The stated goals of the event sound entirely laudable. Unfortunately, the pro-Israel group NGO Monitor has looked at the record of RCHRS and found some cause for concern. The group's Executive Director, Professor Gerald Steinberg, expressed these reservations in an open letter to IFLA President Claudia Lux:

NGO Monitor's analysis demonstrates that, despite its stated mission to develop internal norms of Palestinian democracy and respect for human rights, some of statements focus on condemnations of Israel, and its activities often contribute to conflict and fail to condemn violence. For example, RCHRS has often referred to Palestinian terrorists as “martyrs”. Following the March 2002 suicide bombing attacks and the Israeli response, RCHRS issued a statement promoting the false claim that Israel committed “massacres” in Jenin and Nablus. RCHRS has also accused Israel of “terrirorist [sic] crimes,” and making children the “sacrifice for the racial hatred [sic].”

As a political organization, RCHRS consistently calls for “pressure on the Israeli Government" to "deter it from violating the international law”, and has stated that “all world countries should adhere to their ethical and political responsibilities in putting an end for the Israeli racial aggression.” Such rhetoric clearly reflects an extreme pro-Palestinian political position, which ignores RCHRS' mandate to promote "a culture of tolerance and respect for human rights," and does not contribute to mutual understanding and conflict resolution.

In addition, RCHRS is an active member of the the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), which plays a major role in promoting campaigns to delegitimize and demonize Israel. These activities include the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference, which promoted demonization and boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and has been widely renounced as a form of political warfare.

A look at RCHRS's English-language press releases bears out these concerns. Israeli actions are predictably and uniformly condemned, often in strident terms, while suicide bombings and other acts of Palestinian terrorism merit not a single word of condemnation. Several of the releases address incidents of violence and intolerance in Palestinian society. These are criticized in relatively measured tones. No mention is made of the widespread anti-Semitic indoctrination and incitement engaged in by Hamas and others. Nor does RCHRS offer any condemnation of attacks by Palestinian Islamists on libraries and the people in them. It is possible that their Arabic content addresses such issues, but I have my doubts.

Arab NGOs that push for the spread of tolerance and intellectual freedom are a welcome development and I fully understand IFLA wanting to foster such a trend. Unfortunately, it appears that RCHRS is willing to subordinate such concerns to pursuing the destruction of Israel. This does, in fact, bring their commitment to intellectual freedom into question. I agree with NGO Monitor that IFLA should think twice about working with such an organization.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua Saidoff's Open Letter To IFLA:

Claudia Lux, President
International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)
P.O. Box 95312
2509 CH The Hague

Dear Ms. Lux,

I am writing to express my concern regarding IFLA's announced meeting
at the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies. I am a student in
Jerusalem. I spent the last finals period in the Islamic reading room
at the National Library. A visit to the RCHRS website from the
library computer will take you to press releases, including this one:
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies condemns the Knesset
(Israeli parliament) attempts to legislate compensation for "damages"
resulting from the fall of Palestinian primitive rockets which calls," International Civil Society Organizations and the
International Community to take an immediate action to prevent the
adoption of this law." Further investigation of the RCHRS website
reveals a strange contempt for the human rights of people living on
the Israeli side of the border, whereby even legislative activity
aimed at providing financial redress for civilians bombarded by
rocket fire must be opposed. The Palestinian national struggle is a
cause-celebre, causing many in the international community to
overlook the fact that its most celebrated dimension in Palestinian society is its lethal military campaign against civilians and that
it's goal, both according to the policy of the majority party in its parliament and according to popular opinion polling, is the
eradication of my country, the State of Israel. From my view at the Islamic reading room at the National Library on the Hebrew University Campus it appears clear that Israeli society is engaged in an intense effort to address the rights of the other, even at the cost of personal security. It is demoralizing when even the "human rights" organizations of the other affirm the righteousness of murderous acts against us and denounce our efforts at redress.

If the world's libraries are to become politically active, let them be true defenders of human rights, and partisans in a war where the grievances and aggressions of one party are draped in the heroic
mantle of "human rights". For us, this is not an "academic question".

We need to be seen as humans too. Please do not make the world's
libraries another forum for the "War of Ideas" against us.

Thank you,

Joshua Saidoff

The above letter appeared on the Hasafran, the listserv of the Association of Jewish Librariies.

8:46 PM  

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