An OECD ‘High Level Roundtable’ on tourism due to take place in West Jerusalem has been thrown into chaos by the decision of five countries not to attend and the disclosure by several others that only low-level delegations will take part.
Following attempts by Israel to use the conference to further its territorial claims on Jerusalem and concerns raised by Palestinian civil society and its international supporters that the conference serves to whitewash Israeli violations of international law, the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Turkey and South Africa announced that they would be not be taking part. Although the UK denied that its refusal to attend was politically motivated , Sweden and Turkey openly stated that their withdrawals are political in nature.
In a further blow to the credibility of the ‘high level’ conference at which ‘senior government officials’ were expected to discuss tourism policy , a number of countries will not send tourism ministers and instead low-ranking officials will represent member country governments. The Greek delegation to the OECD told campaigners during telephone calls that no officials from Athens will make the trip and instead a staff member from the Greek tourist information centre in Tel-Aviv will represent Greece. During other telephone calls to OECD offices, campaigners learnt that Denmark will only send a statistician and that Belgium and Norway are still considering what level of representation will attend. France will be represented at a “technical level” only. A number of countries are yet to decide whether Ministers should attend, campaigners understand.
The withdrawals come following comments made by Israeli tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov that the situating of the meeting in Jerusalem – the first OECD meeting hosted by Israel since it became a member in May and only the second time an OECD tourism conference has been held outside of Paris - was in effect recognition by OECD members of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. In a strongly worded letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, OECD General Secretary Angel Gurria called the comments “factually incorrect and quite unacceptable”.
Palestinian opposition to the tourism conference being held in Jerusalem has been consistent. In a letter to Mr Gurria last month, the Palestinian Boycott,Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), a broad Palestinian civil society coalition, called upon the OECD to move the conference. “Organizing this tourism conference in Israel sends once again a strong signal that OECD members are perfectly willing to be complicit with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and actively support Israel’s PR efforts to whitewash its colonial and apartheid policies,” the letter said. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) both issued statements thanking UK and Turkey for boycotting the conference and calling on other countries follow suit.
“We warmly salute all of the countries who have decided not to attend this conference. We urge OECD member states to make a principled stand for justice, international law and human rights by refraining from attending the OECD Tourism Conference to be held in Jerusalem. We are also asking citizens of OECD member countries to put pressure on their governments not to attend” said Hind Awwad, coordinator with the Palestinian Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), a broad Palestinian civil society coalition.
“Israel is using its membership of the OECD to whitewash its violations of international law and further its processes of occupation, colonization and apartheid, just as Palestinian civil warned it would. Attending the conference can only be seen as a seal of approval for Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing policies in Jerusalem” she added.
Spain had originally been declared as boycotting the conference, but it has since emerged that a low-level delegation will attend.