Eight countries absent from OECD Tourism Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 21 October 2010
- Norway, Canada, Ireland, UK, Sweden, Iceland, Turkey and South Africa not present at OECD tourism conference
- Czech Republic only EU country to send political representation to „High-level roundtable‟
- Palestinian civil society coalition describes mass boycott as „a clear condemnation of Israel‟s continued ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem‟
- Boycott follows a statement made by Israeli tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov that the meeting signalled the OECD's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.
Occupied Palestine – An OECD „High Level Roundtable‟ on tourism hosted by Israel has begun in Jerusalem without the presence of at least eight countries, several of whom have stated their absence is politically motivated.
Following attempts by Israel to use the conference to further its territorial claims on Jerusalem and in response to the strong concerns raised by Palestinian and international civil society as well as Palestinian officials, that the conference would serve to whitewash Israel's violations of international law, several of the eight countries to pull out of the conference have explained their withdrawals were political in nature. Norway and Turkey condemned comments made by Israeli politicians in the run up to the conference.1 The Swedish delegation to the OECD referred campaigners to EU policy on the status of Jerusalem and hinted their stance was an attempt to assert the policy.
In a further blow to the credibility of the „high level‟ conference at which „senior government officials‟ were due to discuss tourism policy2, a majority of invited countries did not send Tourism ministers but sent low-ranking officials instead. The Greek delegation to the OECD told campaigners during telephone calls that no officials from Athens will make the trip and that Greece will merely be represented by a staff member from the Greek tourist information centre in Tel-Aviv. Campaigners have learnt that the Czech Republic is the only EU country to send political representation.
The withdrawals came in response to statements made by Israel's Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov that the convening 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 – amounted in effect to recognition by OECD members of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.3 In a strongly worded letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, OECD General Secretary Angel Gurria called the comments “factually incorrect and quite unacceptable”.4
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.5 The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) both issued statements thanking UK, Turkey and Spain for boycotting the conference and called on other countries follow suit.6
“Israel has attempted to use its membership of the OECD to whitewash its violations of international law, just as Palestinian civil society warned it would. The refusal of so many countries to attend this conference is a clear condemnation of Israel‟s continued ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. We congratulate all those countries who have declined to attend the conference, especially those who were principled enough to publicise their concerns about the conference” said Hind Awwad, coordinator with the Palestinian Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), a broad Palestinian civil society coalition.
“That countries like Canada and the UK, who are traditionally staunch defenders of Israeli apartheid, colonialism and occupaton have refused to attend the conference is a significant development,” she added.
The final conference event takes place on Friday.
Notes to editors
1) The 86th Session of the OECD Tourism Committee is due to take place in Jerusalem 20-22 October
2) Israel was admitted to the OECD in May 2010 despite a global campaign against the move as likely to have the impact of emboldening Israeli impunity. Campaigners argue that Israel does not meet the required economic and human rights standards of OECD membership and that OECD members who allowed Israeli to join the OECD did so in violation of their own legal obligations under the Geneva IV Convention.7 Israeli economic data submitted to the OECD includes data from its illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and excludes the occupied Palestinian population. Israel's admission to the OECD under these terms is equivalent to OECD endorsement of Israel's policy of forced population transfer, which is a war crime under international law.8
3) Details of email and telephone conversations relating to various countries‟ positions are available on request.