Up until several years ago, the world was a far more orderly place. Prime ministers and foreign ministers met in luxurious salons and set the world's agenda; ambassadors received clear directives on how to vote in international forums; and everything proceeded in a quiet and orderly fashion - orchestrated from above.
Today, however, power comes from the bottom up and the street sets the tone. The leaders of the Western world determine their positions based on public opinion, which is determined by the events that are portrayed on the global television networks: violent demonstrations, clashes with police, blood and destruction. This is what interests viewers and increases ratings.
The transition process from diplomatic salons to the diplomacy of the street began in Seattle, Washington in November 1999, when thousands of violent demonstrators joined tens of thousands of non-violent protesters in completely disrupting the proceedings of a World Trade Organization convention.
Several thousand anarchists attacked and set fire to everything that symbolized what they saw as the horrors of capitalism.
By filming these rioters, the media, which searches out blood and violence, turned them into the heroes of the conference. The truth is that they did indeed succeed in changing the world agenda, proving that violence pays.
Since Seattle, poverty in the Third World, the debt burden of African countries and the gap between the North and South have become mandatory topics for every international conference.
Since Seattle, hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all around the globe arrive at every international convention. They demonstrate against capitalism, against the current world order, against large multi-national corporations, against the affluent, against poverty in the Third World, against environmental damage, against the United States - and against Israel. The hatred toward Israel and the widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause are an integral part of their worldview.
The United Nation's World Conference against Racism, which is scheduled to conclude today in Durban, is part of this series. The hundreds of NGOs that went to Durban turned the event into an anti-Israel conference; they called for the establishment of a tribunal to investigate Israeli war crimes in the territories; and resurrected the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.
The Palestine Liberation Organization and its supporters captured the street; the television cameras were there to film the events; and the pictures immediately became "public opinion" that surely influenced the lie of the land in the United States.
The U.S. government is very sensitive to public opinion. Israel, therefore, cannot take the pictures of hate broadcast from Durban lightly.
Some believe that Israel's importance for the U.S. stems from "strategic considerations." Others attribute Israel's importance to "Jewish power" on Capitol Hill.
But the truth is that the special relationship between the two countries is built on something much deeper - "common values." Israel's real strength in U.S. popular opinion is in its democratic government, its respect for human rights and its image as a young nation struggling for survival.
But if Israel is perceived in U.S. public opinion as an occupier that violates human rights in the territories, its special status in the United States will be threatened and the annual U.S. aid package will be brought into question. Israel, therefore, cannot ignore the harsh blow to its public image that it suffered at the Durban conference.
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