Hillel Neuer (l) of Geneva-based UN Watch and Aaron Jacob of AJC (r) in New York, December 2008
The last UN Conference against Racism in Durban, held in late August 2001, quickly turned into a disgraceful spectacle of Israel-bashing and downright antisemitism. Anyone interested in a personal, though occasionally melodramatic account, of the conference, should check out the "Durban Diaries," by a member of the European Union of Jewish Students who attended it as part of a large delegation of the NGO. A follow-up to the Durban conference, which was actually the third UN Conference against Racism, will be held at the end of April 2009.
On Monday, December 8, Hillel Neuer of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch briefed a small audience of AJC Access members in New York on what happened at Durban I and what might happen at Durban II. It does not look good.
The first Durban conference consisted of the actual governmental conference attended by UN member states, an NGO forum, and a series of street demonstration in the South African city. It was at the NGO forum and street demonstrations where some of the worst excesses of the "anti-racism" conference took place. But even the governmental conference involved a protracted fight by the US, Israel, and some of the European countries, against a declaration that specifically accused Israel of apartheid, crimes against humanity, and genocide, without mentioning any other states. This particular part of the declaration had been formulated at the Asian regional conference in February 2001.
At the 2007 preparatory conference for Durban II, Libya was chosen to chair the 2009 conference against racism. The 19 vice chairs chosen included Cuba and Iran. Worse, the current draft declaration includes a verbatim copy of the 2001 Tehran wording.
Neuer outlined 3 categories of problematic language in the declaration proposals so far - a longer review of the document has been published in a report titled "Shattering the Red Lines." UN Watch has expressed concern in
- specifically anti-Israel language, including the charge that the Law of Return is inherently racist
- broadly anti-Western material
- a campaign by the Islamic states to import anti-blasphemy provisions and legitimize them in international law under the notion of “defamation of religion”
The latest draft proposals hammered out at the preparatory conference, by no means final, nevertheless testify to the direction in which Durban II might be headed.
So far, only Canada has announced that it is not attending the conference. Israel will be making a decision soon, and the U.S. will do so after the inaugaration of Barack Obama as President. Meanwhile, the Europeans have pledged to maintain certain red lines that, if crossed by the conference, will compel them to walk out of the process. However, it remains to be seen whether they will act on this.
I hope to post more details later.