Current Bangladesh Time: 6:08:40 PM (Wed)

Why Israel refuses to Participate in the UN Durban Review Conference

Dr. Richard L. Benkin

On November 19, 2008, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and Kadima candidate for Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, announced publicly what most people expected; that Israel will not participate in the United Nations Durban Review Conference (Durban II). Durban II will convene in Geneva in 2009 as a follow-up to “The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” (Durban I), held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001. Several European countries, Canada, and the United States have threatened to boycott Durban II, as well. Now why would Israel or any other nation refuse to be part of the fight against those things?

Despite its high-minded title, Durban I was anything but that; in fact, it turned out to be a forum promoting “Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” While it is fashionable for people to claim their vitriol is “merely” anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic, Durban I’s virulent anti-Semitism open and undisguised. As former Canadian Law Minister and famed Human Rights Attorney Irwin Cotler wrote, the Durban “Conference against Racism became a Conference of Racism against Jews.” It should not have been a surprise. A regional conference in Tehran preceded Durban I and was intended to set its tone and produce its rough agenda and goals. Israel and the Jewish NGOs were barred from attending, and no international NGO or any of the participants objected. Their message was clear: “No Jews allowed!”

The entire atmosphere and discussion at the conference and its NGO adjunct was filled with raging hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people. As one European delegate said, “nobody's supporting Israel except for the Jewish group. I'm just wondering how come Jews aren't questioning themselves.” Everyone “except the Jews” is awfully familiar to us historically and rears age-old bigotry that was supposed to have disappeared. But the torrent of hate—not political discourse but vitriolic hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people—was constant at Durban I. Only a threatened pull out by the United States and other countries kept a statement calling Zionism racism (something repudiated even by the anti-Israel UN General Assembly) out of the final document. A few examples of the anti-Jewish vitriol were:

On the grounds of the U.N. conference (with no objection from the UN), the Arab Lawyers Union distributed pamphlets filled with grotesque caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis, spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money nearby.—all stereotypes of Jews, the same ones used by the German Nazis and others who have attempted genocide on the Jewish people.

From the tent where the final NGO declaration was approved, fliers were found with a photograph of Adolf Hitler and the following question: “What if Hitler had won? There would be no Israel, and no Palestinian bloodshed.” No one from the NGO group or convention repudiated the fliers or their message.

An organized march with thousands of participants included a placard prominently displayed reading, “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.” There was no repudiation of that either; nor of the group’s selling one of history’s most notorious and notoriously false anti-Jewish tracts, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Another prominent accusation was that Israel was “guilty of genocide,” and it was included in Durban I’s official statement. Considering that the Arab population in both pre-1967 Israel the disputed territories has increased, Durban I was advancing the most bizarre and definition of genocide yet conceived—again based on bigotry and contrary to the objective fact of population increase. The litany goes on and on. As one Dutch delegate, whose parents had been victims of the Nazi holocaust, said at the time, “No one's speaking out for us against the hate. I'm so sick of it. It's all covered up, that it's 'against Israel, but this is against the Jews. And if they don't speak out, then the world is silent again.” Under such circumstance, no moral individuals could tacitly approve the anti-Jewish racism with their participation.

“Although we had many reasons to believe that the Review Conference will be a repetition of Durban 1,” Livni said. “Israel announced in February 2008 that it would wait for an assurance that the incitement and gross excesses of 2001 will not be repeated.” Livni continued that “we have not seen any proof that things would be better [and that] the Asian Group paper…contains the same language of hate which undermined the first Durban Conference. The document reproduces, almost word-by-word, the rhetoric of the Tehran Planning Meeting. The Asian document is part of Durban II’s Draft Outcome Document and appears on an official UN website. With all the countries in the world guilty of terrible human rights violations, the only country singled out by name is Israel.

“Israel is fully aware of the importance of the international fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance,” said Livni, but “the vitriolic tone and context of the "Draft Outcome Document" continue to undermine the genuine aims and objectives of the Durban Conference, and leave us no choice, but to withdraw from what, once again, will apparently become a platform for denigrating Israel….Israel will not participate and will not legitimize the Review Conference, which will be used as a platform for further anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity. We call upon the international community not to participate in a conference which seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of the "fight against racism.”

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said that all of the countries opposing Israel cannot be wrong and Israel right. Of course, history is littered with examples of individuals and nations standing alone for justice and opposed by the majority. Consider that for the first five years of Bangladesh’s independence, no Muslim nation recognized its legitimacy. Were they all right and Bangladesh wrong?