Thursday, November 27, 2008

What to do about Durban? – A time to make a stand

This lenghty excerpt from a letter by Rama Enav, World WIZO Representative to the UN in Geneva, is a very worthwhile summary of this issue:

As many of us might remember, in August of 2001, the world witnessed the so-called World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, by now known to all as Durban Conference. This conference quickly became a huge display of anti-Semitism, giving a platform to the demonization of Israel as the crucifier and of the Palestinian people as the victims. The equating of Zionism with Racism that was annulled by the UN in 1991, was happily revived and Israel was blamed of using “apartheid practices”, and committing “crimes against humanity”.

Much of the hatred took place in the six-day NGO forum preceding the actual conference. In a large stadium, attended by 6000 representatives of close to 2000 NGOs, the Star of David was horrifyingly compared to the Nazi Swastika and posters were displayed claming that the world would have been a better place if Hitler had won.

On the fourth day of the conference the United States and Israel walked out. Other western countries stayed throughout the conference, hoping to be able to balance the outcomes. As so often happens in UN conferences, the coalition of the 56 Islamic countries followed by the African Group managed to divert attention and blame from their own transgressions against women, religious minorities and political challengers by bashing and singling out Israel.

The conference, which was chaired by South Africa and dominated by an African agenda, failed to acknowledge the ills Africa has inflicted upon itself and continues to inflict on its people seven years after Durban. These ills we recently witnessed in violent racial attacks against immigrants in Johannesburg, genocide and rape of women and girls in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the politically-rooted starvation in Zimbabwe.

The attempts by European and other western countries to balance the extreme language offered by Iran and the Arab States was successful only in blunting it. They finally agreed to single out Israel (in more moderate and balanced language) in order to proclaim a successful conference. The final document of the Conference, the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) “expressed concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation” which, taken at face value, is not such a disagreeable concept. However, it is wrong to address such a concept in a conference on racism and intolerance. Furthermore, it was the only country-specific situation included in the 380-paragraph document.

As many of us are already aware, the UN, with growing pressure from the growing Muslim domination in the organization, decided to engage in a review process of the above declaration (DDPA). In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 61/149, decided to convene a review conference on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action in 2009. It requested that the Human Rights Council (in Geneva) prepare this event. The Human Rights Council elected a Preparatory Committee, paradoxically chaired by Libya and seconded by Cuba, to oversee this process.

The first substantive session of the Preparatory Committee was held in Geneva from 21 April to 2 May 2008, which was over the Pesach holiday, a fact that made it very difficult for Jewish NGOs to participate. During this session the Preparatory Committee took several “important decisions” concerning such things as the accreditation of several NGOs, such as one called “Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign” while barring other UN approved NGOs such as the “Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy”. The date of the Review Conference was set for the 20-24 April, 2009, which ironically falls on Yom Hashoa, and the venue was decided as Geneva. The structure of the Draft Outcome Document was starting to form. At this point it was already clear the direction in which this conference is to go.

Even before April, 2008, Canada declared that they will not participate in the Durban Review Conference (DRC), by now coined “Durban II”, saying it will "not be party to an anti-Semitic and anti-Western hatefest dressed up as an anti-racism conference.”

Israel repeatedly says that it will not give legitimacy to this process unless it is proven beyond all doubt that the conference will be free from any antisemitic narratives. The US is headed in the same direction.

President Sarkozy of France made a statement to CRIF in February saying that a breach of red lines could also trigger France boycott of the conference. There were no clear indications of what these “red lines” are.

The British Government announced during a debate in the Parliament last spring that it would pull out of the process if it appeared that there would be a repeat of the “disgraceful antisemitism that blighted the 2001 conference”.

The Dutch Foreign Minister said last May that he would withdraw from the process if he gets the feeling that events are taking negative turn. He said that it is unacceptable for Israel to be persistently denounced by countries that have a long way to go in terms of democracy and respect to human rights.

During the last week of August the African Regional Group met in Abuja, Nigeria, to adapt a declaration which will contribute to the negotiation of the proposed outcomes of Durban II. The African declaration failed to address racial and ethnic crimes committed by Sudan (or any other African nation, for that matter) but directly targeted Israel alone, implying that it is uniquely racist.

On September 29, 2008, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Asian Regional Group publicized their written contribution to the draft outcome document, for the first time. The OIC said it expects Durban II to repeat or add to the Original DDPA a list of multiple allegations of Israeli human rights violations and a claim that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. The document also contains wild accusations of global Islamaphobia which, in turn, justify gross violations of freedom of expression around the world. In addition the document claims that "defamation of religion" surmounts individual rights and freedoms, and that individual rights must take a back seat to the protection of religion. These accusations refer, of course, to the Danish caricatures and to the European (Free world?) freedom of expression.

The second substantive session of the Preparatory Committee took place in Geneva between 6 and 17 October 2008. It was the two weeks of Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. Again it was seemed that someone is purposely trying to prevent Jewish NGOs from participating in the meetings.
For two whole weeks, states and NGOs’ representatives battled over the long proposed outcome document (by now 646 paragraphs long) that is supposed to be adopted at the UN so-called anti-racism conference. That document features ever stronger accusations that Israel is guilty of apartheid, crime against humanity and Genocide, and affirms that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. It makes new allegations that Zionism is racism by connecting it to “racially based law of return”, and claims the right of return for the Palestinian people which will end the Jewishness of Israel. It declares the internationality of Jerusalem and as such contest the Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Beside these anti-Zionist paragraphs, which is still the only country situation to be named in the document, the draft proposed document also contains an attempt to confine freedom of speech, and insist that the world media will be governed by “a code of ethical conducts” to protect against defamation of religion.

This document is an obvious effort by states that sponsor terrorism to turn attention away from their own atrocious behavior by presenting themselves as victims. They claim that “the most serious manifestations of defamation of religion are the increase in Islamaphobia and the worsening of the situation of the Muslim minorities around the world”.

And despite all that - the European countries still do not walk out. By now I am not sure anymore which “red lines” have not yet been breeched. During the 2 weeks of negotiation, the European Union, led by France, made very few and very non-powerful interventions. The stage was altogether taken by the Muslim and Arab coalitions.

In a briefing last week by the Israeli ambassador to the UN to Geneva Based NGOs, the ambassador said that Europe is currently willing to sacrifice Israel’s cause for their objectives: to improve the language of the proposed draft concerning freedom of expression and defamation of religion .

He said that England and Denmark are considering leaving Durban II conference but would not yet commit themselves. His Australian counterpart told him that various Jewish NGOs in Australia are lobbying the Australian government to participate in the process. The same I heard from a representative of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) who was in Geneva last week. She told me that the British Jewish Community encourages the British government to stay within the Durban process. They believe that from within, their government has the power to influence the outcomes; a thought that I entertained for a long while myself.

However, as said by Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson institute in New York “The continued participation of democratic states like the EU and Australia in the Durban II forum is legitimizing a global discussion for and against antisemitism, for and against a Jewish state, for and against freedom of expression”. She calls for the Western states to immediately walk out instead of providing a global platform to the enemies of human rights.

In the coming weeks the Israeli government will declare its total boycott of the Durban Review Conference [now done - SL]. It will ask its friends in the international community (Paris, London, Berlin, Rome…) to do the same. ...

...The European Union and the Western Group see themselves as a week minority who can not stand up to the dominating Muslim Block. They do not understand that actually without them there will be no conference. Without them it will be a conference of non-democracies who speak only to themselves. By stepping out, the European Union and other western states would de-legitimize the whole process. In that respect, they are very powerful....
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