Yehuda Lancry, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador During Durban Conference, Addresses French-Language B’nai B’rith Program
September Summit Will Mark 20th Anniversary of Racism Conference Tarred by Anti-Semitism
(Washington, D.C., July 8, 2021)--As part of its global efforts to heighten awareness of the 2001 World Conference against Racism—a United Nations event in Durban, South Africa, that was hijacked by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bigots—B’nai B’rith International held on July 7 an online program in French addressed by Yehuda Lancry, Israel’s permanent representative to the U.N. at the time of the Durban conference. The world body plans to mark the 20th anniversary of Durban with a summit on Sept. 22.
B’nai B’rith—which brought the largest multinational Jewish delegation to Durban and has led Jewish communal engagement with the U.N. since 1945—is urging countries to decline to participate in the commemoration. Already, the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Canada, Hungary and the Netherlands have indicated that they will not take part.
In a wide-ranging presentation to French-speakers on multiple continents, Lancry, a former Israeli ambassador to France, described how non-governmental organizations worked to weaponize Durban against Israel, and the context in which South Africa served as a setting for animosity toward the Jewish state and its supporters. He noted that the discriminatory BDS movement—promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel—took shape at Durban.
Yesterday’s virtual program—held in cooperation with B’nai B’rith Europe (BBE) and B’nai B’rith France (BBF)—was opened by BBF President Philippe Meyer and by Stéphane Teicher, the Paris-based B’nai B’rith senior vice president and main representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Also offering testimony were David Lévy Bentolila, a former BBE president who was a member of the B’nai B’rith delegation to Durban in 2001, and Haim Musicant, a BBF vice president who attended the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2009. B’nai B’rith also mobilized the largest Jewish contingent on that occasion.
In his remarks, Lévy Bentolila recounted the toxic atmosphere confronting Jewish delegates to Durban in 2001, including virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist posters, fliers and t-shirts; hostile protests; and a decision by civil-society representatives to accuse Israel of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide.” As a result, members of the Jewish caucus, chaired by B’nai B’rith International then-President (and current Honorary President) Richard Heideman, ultimately withdrew from the conference.
Musicant added that the 2009 follow-up meetings in Geneva were dominated by anti-Israel regimes including that of Libya, with preparatory meetings held on Jewish holidays and an inflammatory in-person address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, notorious for his Holocaust-denial and calls for Israel to be wiped “off the map.” Nonetheless, Musicant noted the strong, coordinated Jewish response—which helped result in an array of key democracies boycotting the proceedings.
As the U.N. has continued to reaffirm and promote the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action—which deplorably singled out Israel, the Middle East’s only pluralistic democracy, for implied characterization as racist—B’nai B’rith has pledged to continue speaking out in support of genuine efforts against bigotry, including anti-Semitism and its most prevalent strain today, anti-Zionism.
The organization held a high-level counter-conference on Durban’s 10th anniversary in New York in 2011 and is taking action in advance of the 20th anniversary summit this September. Through published op-eds, interventions at the U.N. Human Rights Council, letters to world leaders, meetings with ambassadors globally and virtual programming in multiple languages, B’nai B’rith is committed to confronting the tarnished legacy of Durban.
More major programming will be held as the actual anniversary approaches in late August and September. The July 7 program may be watched at https://youtu.be/PCXcfhCrGGo. For additional resources, please visit https://www.bnaibrith.org/durban-at-20.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit bnaibrith.org.