As a defender of free speech, I respect Anne Bayefsky’s right to espouse her views, however offensive they may be to the international human rights community. But when she resorts to intentional distortion in pursuit of her political agenda (“Dithering on Durban II,” National Review Online, 25 February 2008), she goes too far.
Bayefsky has been relentless in her drumbeat against the Durban review. But apparently frustrated that the her campaign has failed to convince the majority of governments and human rights and anti-racism groups in this country and around the globe, she resorts desperately to ad hominum attacks. Her comments about my remarks at a recent NGO meeting in New York (at which she was not even present) are just the most recent case in point.
My comments about U.S. participation, misrepresented and taken out of context by Bayefsky, were part of a larger point I made in favor of U.S. participation. She seems to imply that the oft-repeated accusation that the U.S. opposes the Durban process because it wishes to avoid scrutiny of the legacy of slavery and its treatment of African and indigenous Americans originated with me. It did not. I merely suggested that U.S. participation and open engagement on these issues could help to counter such perceptions. Neither did I ever refer to a “bullying ploy” on the part of the U.S. government. I did, however, address the well-known and widely-reported defensive politics of the Durban conference, in which some sought to prevent discussion of issues of particular concern to the human rights community, including the legacy of slavery and colonialism, and the treatment of Dalits and Palestinians, among others.
I am not sure why Bayefsky would think that service as an “advisor to the Palestinian Authority” would somehow undercut my credibility on these questions but, for the record, this too is untrue. My service in the occupied Palestinian territory was as the senior human rights advisor to the U.N. Special Coordinator (in turn, a Norwegian, a Swede, and an Indian), and I have never served in the Palestinian Authority.
I assume that the pique evident in Bayefsky’s piece comes from her ideological conviction that any discussion of Israel’s human rights record is simply unacceptable. She digs deep to find ammunition for her effort to discredit those who would dare to speak openly about the situation of human rights in the Middle East. She cites a twenty-year old quote from my work as a non-governmental human rights defender in the 1980s, and references my observations about violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians during the first intifadah as if she is hearing these facts for the first time. She then suggests, rather astoundingly, that Palestinians have not been persecuted in the occupied territories.
In my view, this is the best argument for the need for an international process, like Durban, to combat racism. The fact that persecution continues is reason enough, but the fact that some still have no shame in denying persecution makes the effort all the more urgent. Alas, Bayefsky does not blush in denying the suffering of others. She even goes on to dismiss the concerns of human rights groups that some in the Durban parallel NGO meeting resorted to anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. She then seeks to create a scorecard on which side suffered more. Contrary to her allegations, I did not say that “for every anti-Semitic incident there was something anti-Arab and Islamaphobic” at the NGO meeting. In the international human rights movement, we do not grade the suffering of one group vis-à-vis another. We stand with the victim, regardless of who the perpetrator may be. The conclusion, to us, is simple: zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, zero tolerance for anti-Arab racism, zero tolerance for Islamaphobia, zero tolerance for racism against Africans and Asians. Bayefsky seems to miss this logic.
Bayefsky concludes with the most offensive lie of all. I never suggested, I never implied and I reject the notion that “Jews were the problem at Durban I.” Jewish human rights defenders have always stood side-by-side in solidarity with their Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and other counterparts, in the advancement of a common agenda for humanity. The fact that Bayefsky does not share that agenda does not entitle her to distort it.
As for the Durban agenda itself, readers will gain little insight from Bayefsky’s gross misrepresentations. Rather, they should make up their own minds by reading the Durban Declaration and judging for themselves whether it is in any way offensive or whether it is a worthy platform for the international community’s struggle against the continuing scourge of racism. The Durban Review process, on the other hand, is an intergovernmental process established by governments from all regions to review progress in the implementation of the Declaration. It is thus the governments themselves that are ultimately responsible for it. To be sure, this political process is fraught with challenges, and its outcome uncertain. But success will also depend, in large measure, on whether Europeans and Africans, Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Asians, can stand together in solidarity against the rising tide of chauvinistic politics and bigotry confronting our world today.
– Craig Mokhiber, a UN human rights official, contributed these comments in his personal capacity. The Durban Declaration can be read on-line at www.ohchr.org.