Here is a window on the dirty game of U.N. politics that is laughably called “human rights.” The scene is the U.N.’s Palais des Nations, in Geneva, where negotiations are taking place over the final document to be adopted formally at Durban II, the U.N.’s “anti-racism” conference that begins on April 20. President Obama is desperate to avoid offending anybody who is not American, particularly Islamic states, so American officials remain tight-lipped about whether they will participate in Durban II or not. While Americans observe the planning sessions from the sidelines, this is what is happening in the pit.
The first issue discussed today was the central one for American participation. Israel was the only nation criticized by name in the 2001 Durban Declaration, which asserts that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. Although the Obama administration stated last month that it would not agree to “reaffirm the Durban Declaration in toto,” paragraph number 1 of the working draft of this year’s declaration “reaffirms the 2001 Durban Declaration as it was adopted.”
Today the European Union indicated that it is satisfied with this language and has no intention of proposing any modification that would bring the Americans onboard. Suggestions had been floating around to reaffirm only “the core provisions from 2001,” or to insert an explanatory footnote with reservations. None of this materialized. It turns out that the EU’s “who gives a damn about the U.S.” position is part of a deal struck with Islamic extremists. As long as the EU reaffirms the denunciation of Israeli racism in Durban I, Islamic states will refrain from introducing more racist-Israel language into Durban II. That’s how the EU does business: Forget the principle — just keep the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) happy.
The EU position should spell the end of Obama’s fence-sitting. The game is up; alleged Israeli racism is going to be “reaffirmed,” since not one country is prepared to oppose it.
Meanwhile, the idea of denouncing anti-semitism remains controversial. In this global proclamation about intolerance, there is only one draft paragraph among 141 that briefly mentions “anti-semitism,” and today the South Africans indicated they had problems with that paragraph. The Russian chair of the proceedings announced that he was delaying consideration of the subject and moving its discussion to an unrelated debate over paragraphs concerning freedom of expression.
What’s behind all this? The OIC countries are locked in a struggle with EU states over the ability to stifle free speech (such as “defaming” Islam) in the name of protecting religion. The Russian move helps the OIC nations by letting them use the anti-semitism clause as a bargaining chip, to be played in exchange for the EU’s allowing free-speech restrictions. In a related issue, the Danish are unhappy with the mention of something the U.N. invented called “anti-Arabism.” That phrase has been inserted in the paragraph about discrimination in the form of Islamophobia, Christianophobia and anti-semitism. But the rest of the EU has told the Danes to get lost, on the grounds that if the EU proposes deleting anti-Arabism, the OIC will insist on deleting anti-semitism. As EU officials explain to observers, “We want to show restraint.”
Restraint of course, is a one-way street at the U.N. So the Syrians duly proposed adding a denunciation of “foreign occupation” — a.k.a. Israel. Not one country objected to the Syrian proposal — not even Australia, which until now had not been intimidated by the anti-Israel and anti-democratic forces. According to U.N. rules, this means the proposed language will be added into the draft in “square brackets,” indicating that it is firmly in the mix for the purposes of future deal-making. Syria also said, “later on we will propose further amendments.”
Watching the U.N. conduct the business of human rights is revealing. It teaches us how negotiations between fascists and democrats proceed. Democrats “show restraint,” while fascists don’t care who they offend or what they say. And more often than not, Jews and the Jewish state are the political football. The farthest thing from this playing field is true concern over the protection of human rights.
— Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and at Touro College, New York.