Please disable your Ad Blocker in order to interact with the site.

In actuality, the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban quickly became a disgusting display of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel Propaganda. Much of the hatred took place in a six-day NGO Forum in a large cricket stadium attended by six thousand representatives of close to two thousand NGOs. It is there that the “Durban Strategy” was formulated, that is delegitimize the Jewish State via branding it as a racist entity.

With a planning committee led by Libya, and including “human rights activists” such as Iran and Cuba, Durban II (which will be in Geneva) promises to be more of the same..and then some. Along with an Anti-Israel agenda, this one is aiming to limit the world’s freedom of speech as it applies to Islam.

With only a few months between now and the conference, is there anyway for sanity to prevail over the agenda of this hate-fest. The policy paper below examines what the free-world must do to prevent a repeat of 2001:

From Durban I to Durban II: Preventing Poisonous Anti-Semitism* Alfred H. Moses

Durban I: Unabashed Jew-Hatred

To understand the ominous portent of what is commonly called Durban II-though the conference is actually scheduled for Geneva-and its possibilities for a better outcome, it is necessary first to revisit Durban I. Billed seven years ago as a World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, it quickly became a new form of Passion Play with the Palestinian people as the victim and the Jewish state of Israel as the crucifier. On returning to the United States, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, a member of the U.S. delegation, remarked in a meeting with the American Jewish Committee that “For me, having experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand, this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period.”[1] Much of the hatred took place in a six-day NGO Forum in a large cricket stadium attended by six thousand representatives of close to two thousand NGOs. Paralleling Jew-baiting were attacks on globalization, later characterized by the president of the conference-the South African foreign minister-as having “rendered precarious the economies of countries with the terrible legacy of slavery and colonialism, while benefiting mostly the developed countries. . .it has left in its wake dehumanizing absolute poverty, economic marginalization, social exclusion and underdevelopment.”[2] On the opening day of the conference, the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan addressed a roundtable of fourteen heads of state and heads of government, ten of whom were from Africa, two from small former communist countries in Europe-Latvia and Bosnia-Herzegovina-and two from Cuba and Palestine, Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat. The only person who addressed the roundtable other than Annan was South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki. This “heads-of” constellation set the tone for much of the conference. It said who was there, i.e., Africa, Castro, and Arafat, and, more important, who was not there, i.e., most of the world’s leaders. Despite the secretary-general’s admonition that “Mutual accusations are not the purpose of this conference, our main objective must be to improve the lot of the victims,”[3] the conference proceeded to do just the opposite. On the fourth day of the conference, the United States and Israel walked out. Under the title Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, 31 August-8 September 2001, the conference’s final report expressed concern about “the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.” The rest of the paragraph read: “We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.”[4] Although one could argue that this language is not objectionable on its face, the European representatives at the conference rightly pointed out that it had no place in a conference on racism and intolerance. In the same vein, the final report recognized “the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety; and urged all states to facilitate such return.” [5] To its supporters, this language meant one thing and one thing only. The Iranian representative said it clearly: “The right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.”[6] One might ask how this concern for the plight of refugees is being applied in Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe or, for that matter, in Chechnya, Tibet, and other places in the world where persons have been displaced. But this would call for a degree of honesty and forthrightness that were missing much of the time in Durban. At the end of the conference, the Canadian representative said:

Canada is still here today only because we wanted to have our voice decry the attempts at this Conference to de-legitimize the State of Israel-referring to the call for the return of refugees-and to dishonor the history and suffering of the Jewish people. We believe and we have said in the clearest possible terms, that it was inappropriate-wrong-to address the Palestinian-Israel conflict in this forum.

He previously declared that the conference’s language on refugees “goes to the heart of the legitimacy of Israel.”[7] But this is not the whole story. It would be wrong to sum up Durban with the signal word “anti-Semitic” or with the signal term “anti-Israeli.” The Durban Conference was far more nuanced and layered. The Passion Play took place at the NGO Forum preceding the conference. It was anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli from start to finish. It also recklessly, stridently, and shamelessly blamed globalization for present-day economic, political, and social injustice afflicting Africa’s poor and underprivileged. Antiglobalization carried over to the conference itself, as did condemnation of slavery and the slave trade. “The trans-Atlantic slave trade”-read the United States-was cited as a heinous social crime-as indeed it was-while Arab slave trading went unmentioned. So, too, colonialism was singled out as a principal cause of racism and racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent. Apartheid, genocide, and a whole list of other ills from the AIDS epidemic, to violation of the rights of indigenous people, to discrimination against Roma were similarly condemned. In a sense, Durban was African “payback time.” By and large Durban was Black Africa speaking, led by the Republic of South Africa. However, missing from Durban was any acknowledgment of the ills Africa visited upon itself since the end of colonialism and continues to inflict on its people seven years after Durban, as witnessed in savage attacks against immigrants/refugees in Johannesburg in spring 2008. An even more fundamental issue is whether payback is ever appropriate or fair recompense. It is one thing to compensate Jews who were in Nazi concentration camps, or whose property was expropriated, or the children of Jews killed by the Nazis because they were Jewish. The slave trade ended more than seven generations ago. Who is to pay and who is to receive compensation? Moreover, those people living in Africa today-and it was the voice of Africa that spoke at the conference-are not descendants of slaves but of persons who remained in Africa and, if slaves, were slaves to their fellow Africans. In some important ways Durban was a lost opportunity in the fight against racism. As Secretary-General Annan said in his opening statement, “Mutual accusations are not the purpose of this Conference. Our main objective must be to improve the lot of the victims.”[8] Regrettably, his message went unheeded. As so often happens in meetings of the United Nations, the fifty-six Islamic countries managed to avoid blame for their historic and continuing transgressions against women, religious minorities, and political dissidents while tarring Israel with the racist brush. “Zionism equals racism,” adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1975 and repealed in 1991, came alive again in Durban. The European countries and a few others, notably Guatemala, blunted the more extreme anti-Israeli language sought by Iran and Arab states but in the end agreed to singling out Israel in more moderate and balanced language in order to proclaim a “successful conference.”

Rationalized Positions

There is another part of Durban that needs to be considered. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was strongly reaffirmed. All states were called upon to counter anti-Semitism, and there was the declaration that the Holocaust must never be forgotten. For much of the Muslim world, these statements were the price paid to European and other like-minded countries for their agreement to the language on Israel and refugees. Each side rationalized its position in terms of the compromises needed for the conference to succeed. At Durban both ends were playing to the African middle that drove the conference, intent on achieving its goal of a world declaration condemning racism. This they achieved. But to what purpose? Has racism ended? The answer is clearly no. Has it lessened in any discernible way? One would be hard put to say yes with much conviction. The Iranian and the Arab spokesmen went one step further. They explained that the Holocaust was Europe’s guilt, not Islam’s, and that most Semites are Arabs, not Jews. This, they said, was the real reason for condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The two were joined at the hip in the Durban declaration.

The EU Is Likely to Wait

Will Durban II be Durban I redux, and how can one deal with legitimate grievance in ways that do not return to more empty, mutual-accusation-feel-good rhetoric with no real progress on systemic racism? Will Western countries attend Durban II? Canada has already said no. The United States and Israel are headed in the same direction, but their respective president and prime minister may leave it to successors to decide. True to its past, the European Union remains undecided. Strong criticism by France, the UK, and the Netherlands has not led to a formal EU decision. President Nicolas Sarkozy made the boldest public statement in a speech delivered at the CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions) dinner in February 2008. After waiting for the results of the first Preparatory Conference, now concluded, the EU is likely to wait further, hoping to persuade the conference not to accede to threatened Islamic demands for media censorship of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and other perceived offenses, which the EU rightly sees as an attack on freedom of speech. One need not applaud such depictions in order to oppose a gag rule on media. However the free speech vs. “defense of Islam” issue plays out, the question is what can be done to prevent Durban II from becoming what Tom Lantos described, “an unabashed display of hate for Jews” and a renewed focus on Israel as the perpetrator, the Palestinian people as the victims. After answering the question “What should we do?” the next question is “What can we do?” Three aspects of Durban need to be examined: anti-Semitism, attempts to delegitimize Israel, and how to respond to legitimate grievances in ways that do not put Jews and Israel on the defensive, or, to put it another way, on the wrong side of history, including history yet to be written.

Struggling to Remain Distinct

To start with anti-Semitism, why, two generations after the Holocaust and sixty years after René Cassin’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, did anti-Semitism seem to metastasize? How did The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 105-year-old Czarist-paid forgery, become popular reading by the Saudi royal family and why was it recreated as a serial on Egyptian television during Ramadan? In the interest of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge that anti-Semitism did not originate in 19th-century Europe. True, the Maccabees’ uprising against compulsory Hellenism was a cultural battle, the revolt against Rome a war of independence. Such conflicts have occurred throughout human history. They are not unique to Jews. This changed with the dispersion of Jews. After the expulsion from what was later Palestine, Jews no longer had a territory to defend. The Land of Israel was only a reference point from which Jews had departed and to which they aspired to return. To the present day a large part of Jews’ traditional prayer service speaks of the return to Zion and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. After the dispersion, anti-Semitism was largely a Christian phenomenon –though hardly unknown in the Muslim world as well — often inflamed by political and church leaders for their own purposes. Competing scriptures, charges of deicide, and the human impulse to fear and distrust persons with a different religion, ethnicity, culture, and language were contributing factors. Jews were the scapegoats blamed for everything from the Bubonic Plague-with Jews accused of causing the Black Death by poisoning wells-to losing wars. That was Hitler’s opening salvo. The tragedy of the Holocaust was indescribably greater. It was founded neither on territory nor on religion but on primordial hatred based on race and race alone. Without subscribing to Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil, there is indeed something banal about racial accusations against a people of the same race. Banal or not, six million Jews died. The Nazis succeeded in dehumanizing the Jew, depicted as a predatory animal, a creeping reptile, or a venomous insect. Now, more than sixty years later, is anti-Semitism, in whatever form, destined to live on? President Sarkozy, in remarks delivered to a largely Jewish audience in Washington, DC, in November 2007, asserted that anti-Semitism cannot be explained. It is inexplicable, he said, and by definition the inexplicable cannot be explained. I disagree, not with the logic but with the construct. To explain is not to condone. Anti-Semitism can never be condoned. To explain it as I have just attempted to do in a very few words is the obligation we have to ourselves as Jews. Jews also have an obligation not to blame themselves for anti-Semitism. However inconvenient our individual or collective presence may be to anti-Semites, hiding or minimizing our differences should not be the answer. For example, in the 1930s, I am told, the American Jewish Committee urged Jews not to read Yiddish newspapers on the subway in New York so as not to draw attention to themselves as Jews. I was a young boy at the time, but I hope that, had I been older, I would have said just the opposite: Jews should read Yiddish newspapers on the subway even if they can’t read or understand Yiddish. Hiding our differences means giving up on our Jewishness. This is obliteration, not acceptance. As long as we remain distinct, we shall not be reckoned among the nations, which is a fancy way of saying we will not disappear. And as long as we remain distinct, there is likely to be anti-Semitism in one form or another. Distinctiveness always breeds detractors. This will not change. Our distinctiveness should be seen by us as a positive attribute, one on which our survival as a people depends. As we struggle to maintain our distinctiveness, we need, at the same time, to be absolutely firm in combating anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it arises. There can be no repeat of the anti-Semitism displayed at Durban. It has no place anywhere, but most certainly not at a follow-up conference to combat racism and intolerance. This message has to be delivered forcefully, not only to our friends in Europe and elsewhere but also to the conference’s chief sponsors in Africa who have the greatest stake in the outcome of the Durban process. The same message needs to be delivered in the Muslim world. Durban joined anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. Durban called attention “to the emergence of acts of racial and violent movements based on racial and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.”[9] We need to remind them that intolerance breeds intolerance. If the world is to move beyond its present sorry state, this is a good place to begin.

Palestinians Should Produce Responsible Leadership

What about Israel? Is the issue only territory? Is Israel’s right to exist as a democratic Jewish state only a question of boundaries, or with the rise of Islamic extremism has it become something more, a religious war with a moral imperative that does not permit compromise, certainly not a territorial compromise? By embracing a two-state solution, the government of Israel has already offered to compromise. Twenty years ago Yitzhak Rabin told me there were three things no Israeli government would ever agree to: (1) recognizing the PLO, (2) the creation of an independent Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, and (3) an Arab military presence in the territories. All three have now been offered by four Israeli prime ministers, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Olmert. The burden is now squarely on the Palestinian people to produce responsible and effective leadership and to sort out how to create the institutions needed for them to govern their lives. As long as their eyes are on Tel Aviv and not Ramallah, Jenin, and Nablus, peace is not likely. The peace process in all its parts is fundamentally an Israeli-Palestinian issue. Jews, however, have a responsibility for how Israel is perceived in the countries in which they live and in the world at large. There can be no compromise on the fundamental issue of Israel’s legitimacy and, ultimately, its security. Coupling Israel with racism as was done at Durban is a clear attempt by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize Israel and ultimately to undermine its security. On this we need to be perfectly clear. Although one should not seek logic where logic is not to be found, the fact remains that Israel is the only country in the world that in less than two decades extended an outstretched arm and an open hand in bringing some one hundred thousand Africans from Ethiopia to Israel and is now spending large sums to help these immigrants become part of mainstream Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to do with race and should not be so cast. If both Arabs and Jews are Semites, as Israel’s enemies claimed at Durban, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be about race. Claims to the contrary need to be exposed for what they are, empty lies.

Particularism and Universalism

There is a strange equation at work here. For Israel’s enemies, Israel = Jew = West = Christianity/secularism = anti-Islam. This is not a sane formula for anyone, African, Asian, or Western. When Jews talk about anti-Semitism and Israel, they are talking about their particularism, but universalism is also part of their tradition. A belief in one G-d mandates a universal outlook. Jews were instructed three thousand years ago that there is to be one law for the stranger and for the home-born among them. Social justice has always been part of their tradition. Among many young Jews in America today “tikkun olam” (mending the world) is more often on their lips than “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel-a liturgical invocation). The universal is heard more often than the particular. This is not everyone’s choice, but it is the choice increasingly made by some younger American Jews. It is important that Jews understand and respond to the legitimate grievances of others, as were expressed by African countries at Durban. To abandon the field to the Islamic countries would be a tragedy of historic proportions for us as Jews. The reward for us in responding positively is not likely to be gratitude. It rarely is. Rather, the reward comes from knowing that one acted when cries for justice rang out. I have always disliked Hillel’s aphorism, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” It sounds too slick, too much like moral posturing. But as I stand before you today, it is hard to find words that better express both the particular and the universal in our tradition. In concluding, let us move from the moral ground to the practical. We cannot afford to have those who would destroy Israel pose as champions of the antiracism cause in the world. We need to remind people that it was Helen Suzman and Harry Schwarz, South African Jews, who had the courage to speak out and to visit Nelson Mandela in jail. We also need to remind the world that we have clothed the poor and fed the hungry, not as acts of mercy but as acts of justice. Just as our love of Israel is unshakable, so, too, is our faith in the belief that true nobility lies in helping others.

A Call for Action

Is there a call for action on our part? The answer is an emphatic yes. Point 1: No repetition of the poisonous vapors of anti-Semitism that were emitted on the eve of Durban. If we are not for ourselves, who will be? Point 2: No linking of the Israel-Palestine conflict with racism. The Israel-Palestine conflict has many surfaces, but race is not one of them. The African immigrant is not barred from Europe because of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The African woman in Kinshasa is not dying of AIDS because of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Starving children in Chad are not denied food because of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The answer is not to look for balanced language to describe the Israel-Palestine conflict, as some friendly countries may think, but in not repeating in Durban II this insidious linkage directly, or by reference back. Points 1 and 2 are redlines for us and should be for likeminded NGOs and for all countries that are serious about depoliticizing the UN’s human rights performance. Point 3: Racism is distinctiveness writ large. We have a stake as Jews in the thermometer reading on racism. A high temperature is bad for us and for the rest of the world. Helen Suzman knew this instinctively when she went to visit Mandela in jail. So, too, did Abraham Joshua Heschel when he marched arm in arm with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. Let us not be bashful in telling government officials in Africa and elsewhere that this remains our calling. * * *


* Address by Ambassador Alfred H. Moses, Chair, UN Watch, to the Jewish International Leadership Conference on “What to Do about Durban II,” Geneva, Switzerland, 27 May 2008. [1] Tom Lantos, “The Durban Debacle: An Insider’s View of the World Racism Conference at Durban,” Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2002). [2] Statement by H.E. Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa and President of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, 31 August-8 September 2001, UNGA A/CONF. 189/12, 25 January 2002, document in pdf format (N0221543.pdf), 172. [3] Statement by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Report of the World Conference, 150. [4] Report of the World Conference, General Issues No. 63, 18. [5] Report of the World Conference, General Issues No. 65, 18. [6] Report of the World Conference, General Issues No. 65, 126. [7] Report of the World Conference, General Issues No. 65, 119-20. [8] Statement by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Report of the World Conference, 150. [9] Report of the World Conference, General Issues No. 61, 18. * * * Ambassador Alfred H. Moses is currently the Chair of UN Watch, Geneva, Switzerland. From 1991 until 1994 he was president of the American Jewish Committee. He served as Special Adviser and Special Counsel to the President of the United States in the Carter White House. In 1994, President Clinton appointed him the American ambassador to Romania, where he served for three years. In 1999, President Clinton appointed him Special Presidential Emissary for the Cyprus Conflict. He served until the end of the Clinton administration. For more than fifty years he has been with the Washington, DC, law firm Covington & Burling LLP. He is currently a Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Promontory Financial Group, Washington, DC.

Become a Lid Insider

Sign up for our free email newsletter, and we'll make sure to keep you in the loop.

Thanks for sharing!

We invite you to become a Lid insider. Sign up for our free email newsletter, and we'll make sure to keep you in the loop.

Send this to friend