Don’t Do Durban II
Some advice for President Obama.


Anne Bayefsky

Last Thursday, in a full-page ad in the Washington Times, a group of influential observers — including Alan Dershowitz, Victor Davis Hanson, Bernard Lewis, Martin Peretz, and Elie Wiesel — urged Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to announce that the United States will not attend the U.N.’s forthcoming “anti-racism” conference known as Durban II. The conference, the ad said, far from combating racism, will fuel hatred of Israel and encourage anti-Semitism. Israel itself will not be in attendance, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni has called for American support.

Meanwhile, the congressional black caucus and human-rights groups around the country are urging Obama to attend and legitimize Durban II, which will take place in Geneva in April 2009. A decision is expected shortly, and in making it, Obama would do well to remember the moral leadership Democrats have shown in facing down U.N.-driven hatred of Israel in the past.

In 1975, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution alleging the self-determination of the Jewish people — Zionism — was racism. In response, U.S. ambassador and soon-to-be Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan told the Assembly, “The United States . . . does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

For the next 16 years, this resolution poisoned all U.N. “anti-racism” activities. When the Assembly voted to rescind the resolution in 1991, most participating Muslim states voted to keep it, and a plan to resurrect it began as soon as the first version was shuffled off the stage. Act II culminated in the U.N. “anti-racism” conference held in Durban, South Africa, which ended three days before 9/11.

U.S. delegation head, Democratic congressman, and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos walked out, together with the state of Israel’s representation. Lantos explained, “A conference that should have been about horrible discrimination around the world has been hijacked by extremist elements for its own purposes. . . . What you have here is the paradox of an anti-racism conference that is itself racist.”

True to U.N. form, the outcome of this conference became the centerpiece of the organization’s “anti-racism” agenda, and the process of convening a “follow-up” meeting moved into high gear two years ago. The first of four objectives is “to foster the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.” That Declaration, adopted after the U.S. and Israel made their opposition plain, claims that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. This claim is the only country-specific accusation in a document that purports to address racism and xenophobia around the world.

Those who claim the U.S. should participate in Durban II put forth four main arguments.

First comes a three-part claim: Durban II is only designed to implement Durban I’s conclusions, those conclusions represent a U.N. consensus, and the only problem with Durban I was a nasty nongovernmental forum that took place alongside it. Leading this cover-up is, not surprisingly, the U.N. itself. Addressing the most recent Durban II preparatory committee in October of this year, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, said:

Seven years ago at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, the virulent anti-Semitic behavior of a few non-governmental organizations on the sidelines of the Durban Conference overshadowed the critically important work of the Conference. Measures were taken to address this…The legacy of this Conference is and should be the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, a framework adopted by consensus that has given us a comprehensive plan of action to combat racism in all its manifestations.

This is simply false. Sitting in the back of the drafting committee of the Durban I governmental conference, I watched the deletion of virtually every paragraph on anti-Semitism — carefully prepared provisions articulating a range of steps to combat this scourge. Then the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference struck a deal: The EU gained a mention of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, in exchange for allowing a condemnation of racist Israel.

Also, Durban I was not a U.N.-wide consensus, since the U.S. and Israel voted with their feet. Furthermore, some states, like Canada, made formal reservations to the racist-Israel language during the final adoption of the Declaration. (It found that every U.N. printing of the Declaration omits those formal reservations, and in January 2008 Canada became the first country to refuse to participate in a conference dedicated to implementing Durban I.)