Politics & Policy

Dithering on Durban II

Why hasn't the U.S. distanced itself from the U.N.'s platform for anti-Semitism?

Jerusalem — Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced on Sunday that Israel will not participate in Durban II, the U.N.’s most recent platform for anti-Semitism and the demonization of the Jewish state. Livni called upon the international community to refuse “legitimacy to hatred, extremism, and anti-Semitism, under the banner of the ‘fight against racism.’” After announcing Israel’s decision to boycott the 2009 conference, she asked “like-minded countries” to do the same.

Three days before 9/11 a United Nations “anti-racism” conference held in Durban, South Africa concluded with a poisonous declaration that Palestinians were victims of Israeli racism — the only state sponsor of racism of which the U.N. was conscious. Durban II is the follow-up conference dedicated to the implementation of that first declaration.

Livni’s call for allies is a shameful reminder that the United States has yet to declare that it will not participate in the planning and lead-up to Durban II, which begins in Geneva in a few weeks time. Moreover, the Bush administration has also not made it clear that it expects any future administration will stay away from the conference itself.

On the contrary, Secretary of State Rice responded to a pointed inquiry by Senator Norm Coleman during a Senate hearing on February 13: “We have not tried to make a final decision on this.” In Jerusalem on Sunday, Livni was joined on the stage by State Department representative Greg Rickman, who was therefore forced to follow Livni’s invitation with an awkward silence and comparatively empty commitment to “confront anti-Semitism head on” before hundreds of Jewish community leaders from 40 countries.

Rice’s indecision puzzles, as it follows a six and a half years of univocal action on the part of the United States. The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I in disgust, and the United States has voted against every Durban “follow-up” resolution at the U.N. ever since. In December the U.S. voted against the entire U.N. budget for 2008-09 because it contained funding for Durban II. If, by her hesitation, Rice had simply wanted to avoid taking the lead, Canada’s Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier gave her the out weeks ago by announcing Canada was pulling out of Durban II on January 23.

One popular explanation for the mysterious indecision is that Barack Obama is casting a long shadow over the State Department. The theory is that department officials eagerly anticipate a President Obama whose salutatory gestures toward the U.N. would be something akin to a giant bear hug. The U.N. penchant for combating racism and intolerance by demonizing Jewish self-determination, under this scenario, will be just another inconvenient truth. In the meantime, the bureaucracy is managing to stifle decision-making along any lines a President Obama and other U.N. enthusiasts might abjure.

An additional possible explanation is that U.S. participation in Durban II is being dangled as a carrot for Israel’s capitulation on some unrelated demand, as Rice gallops to create a terrorist state on Israel’s borders before leaving office. Also possible is an effort to avoid criticism of the U.N. while the administration attempts to get yet another Security Council resolution on Iran. Apparently, they expect someone, somewhere to believe a resolution will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Whatever the reason, it is a serious mistake to delay a boycott announcement any further. Craig Mohkiber, deputy director of the New York Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, reveals why. On Thursday, February 21 Mohkiber participated in an information session on Durban II between members of the High Commissioner’s Office and U.N.-accredited NGOs. Asked about a U.S. pullout he said: “there is a school of thought that says all this is a sham and the U.S….doesn’t want to be subjected to examination of its record re African-Americans and indigenous people.” He went on to characterize U.S. and Israeli concerns over Durban I as part of an unsuccessful bullying ploy. Mohkiber claims they tried — “Don’t you dare hold the U.S. accountable for slavery we won’t let you… Don’t you dare to try to hold Israel accountable for the treatment of Palestinians” — and failed. In other words, the closer we get to the planning sessions, the easier it becomes to dismiss legitimate U.S. concerns as just sour grapes.

Mokhiber, who once served as a U.N. adviser to the Palestinian Authority, also presages the substance of Durban II. According to the Sonoma County Free Press, in the late 1980’s, while working for an NGO, Mokhiber visited the territories and prepared a report which said: “One of the features of the violence that is perpetrated against the Palestinians is [that it is] random. It is perpetrated against the elderly, the infirm, anyone who happens to be a non-Jewish member of that society. It is very clearly racist violence.” True to form, during Thursday’s information session he referred to Palestinians as a “persecuted” group with which it was “important” to deal at Durban. He then suggested that Jews were the problem in Durban I, and alleged that for every anti-Semitic incident at the conference there was something “anti-Arab and Islamophobic from the other side.”

The Libyan chair, Cuban rapporteur, and an Iranian vice president of Durban II’s executive-planning committee will soon be off to a running start on a highway to hell. It is time for the United States to let them go hurtling off the cliff all by themselves.

Anne Bayefsky is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She also serves as the director of the Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org.

Anne Bayefsky — Professor A.F. Bayefsky, B.A., M.A., LL.B., M.Litt. (Oxon.), is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, and a Barrister and Solicitor, Ontario Bar. She is also an Adjunct Professor at ...


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