On the eve of the United Nation’s official commemoration of the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, B’nai B’rith International hosted a briefing entitled “Durban: A Ten-Year Assessment of the United Nations World Conference against Racism.”
Though the initial goal of the 2001 conference, held in Durban, South Africa, was to combat worldwide racism, it ended up blatantly singling out Israel, and devolved into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hate fest.
In his opening remarks on Sept. 21, B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs recognized the 14 countries that declared their decision not to attend what he called the “fundamentally flawed” Sept. 22 Durban commemoration. These include Australia, Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States.
“These democracies deserve praise for their principled stand, and we will convey our thanks in consultations with numerous state and government leaders throughout the week.”
B’nai B’rith, the only major Jewish agency with a dedicated Office of U.N. Affairs—in existence since the world body’s creation—mobilized the largest Jewish nongovernmental delegation to both the 2001 conference and 2009 review conference. B’nai B’rith delegates are monitoring developments this week at the United Nations.
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who served as moderator, introduced the speakers.
“This third installment of the notorious Durban process has, like its predecessors, demonstrated that even a cause as noble as fighting racism and discrimination can be undermined by those whose primary purpose is not to safeguard the freedoms and human rights for which they hold little regard,” Mariaschin said. “Rather, their purpose is to spread, in the name of the United Nations, the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.”
Hannah Rosenthal discussed her work as the State Department’s U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
“I wish I had good news to report” she began, but indicated that old manifestations of anti-Semitism are “alive and well and disgustingly growing,” referring to desecration of cemeteries, synagogues and blood libel claims. Holocaust denial, relativism and glorification are persistent. Equally disturbing is the confluence of legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, she said. “We must call hate speech what it is: disgusting.”
Referring to the Durban commemoration, Ambassador John R. Bolton, former U.S. undersecretary of state and permanent representative to the United Nations, said it was “only the latest in a long line of these efforts.”
He also discussed the recurrence of the Zionism=Racism charge, established by U.N. Res. 3379 in 1975, and reversed in 1991. “Durban was a throwback to Zionism=Racism,” he said. “This commemoration has the corresponding effect of undermining Israel.”
Canadian Parliament member Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, posited this commemoration in the context of a post-9/11 society. “We will never forget this festival of hate. If 9/11 was Kristallnacht, then Durban was its Mein Kampf.”
Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said the delegitimization of Israel is the most serious issue facing Jews today. “It’s not about ’67, it’s about ’47,” about Israel’s very right to exist.
He also addressed the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement to delegitimize the Jewish state and its detrimental effects on the safety of Jewish college students who have become targets for these anti-Israel campaigns and demonstrations.
B’nai B’rith Honorary President Richard D. Heideman, who led the B’nai B’rith delegation to the 2001 conference and again in 2009, said the Durban-related efforts of the last 10 years don’t just hurt Israel. They have diverted attention from blatant violators of human rights like Libya, Syria and Iran.
“[The commemoration] is only the first step in an unfortunately long campaign that will continue long into the future,” Heideman said.
Indeed, a recent letter sent by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is a clear example of the vicious anti-Semitic discourse that was so visible in Durban. Aimed at supporting the Palestinian request for statehood at the United Nations, the letter depicts Israelis as Nazi-like criminals, and refers to Zionism as racism. It states “It is upsetting and painful that the same people who suffered one of the worst examples of genocide in history have become the executioners of the Palestinian people: It is upsetting and painful that the heritage of the Holocaust be the Nakba… We must spell it out: Zionism, as a world vision, is absolutely racist.”
At the same time, Chavez has no problem defending the Libyan regime and its atrocious human rights violations, which underscores how absurd and malicious his obsession with Israel is.
Only by recognizing the abuses of countries who are true human rights violators can the world body see the conference’s intended goals realized: to combat racism and intolerance worldwide.