By Anne Bayefsky
With President Obama’s anti-Israel hostility becoming an increasing liability for Democrats, the administration finally decided Wednesday to pull out of the U.N.’s upcoming Israel-bashing extravaganza known as “Durban III.” Believe it or not, the notorious U.N. world summit on racism is coming to New York City in September with the purpose of “commemorating” the ten-year anniversary of the racist “anti-racism” conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Mr. Obama’s latest lead-from-behind foreign policy move comes seven months after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government first declared, “we will not be part of this event, which commemorates an agenda that promotes racism rather than combats it.”
The decision appears to be a clear reaction to the negative political fallout surrounding Mr. Obama’s recent veiled attempt to shove indefensible borders down Israel’s throat.
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During Obama’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC on May 22, he specifically referred to his decision not to attend the “Durban II” or “Durban review conference,” which was held in Geneva in 2009. But he made no mention of U.S. participation in the 2011 Durban III event, though it would have been an ideal audience for such an announcement had he already reached a decision on it.
In 2009 President Obama decided — just 36 hours before the meeting began — that there was something wrong with a conference on xenophobia and intolerance headlined by Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
It was a costly delay, which saved the U.N. from even more embarrassment, as many other states would have acted in tandem with the United States and boycotted Durban II with sufficient planning.
Evidently, on May 22 the president still thought he could pull the same dawdling stunt again.
But with Democrats scrambling to recover from the president’s profound alienation of large numbers of voters deeply sympathetic to Israel, the June 1 announcement was made and dressed up as a response to a letter “from Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.” The old letter from last December was actually signed by 9 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 1 independent, and post-dated a boycott call of the racism summit made by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in November.
The better-late-than-never decision is not as simple, however, as it seems.
First, the U.N. General Assembly is currently negotiating a resolution on the “modalities” of Durban III. In plain English, there has been a difficult and protracted debate behind-the-scenes about the organization of the summit. The European Union, in particular, is looking for procedural dodges that will help it avoid the split that occurred during Durban II, when some EU states boycotted and others did not. Unfortunately for EU pencil pushers, there is no escaping that the substance of the meeting is irrevocably poisoned.
By virtue of a 2010 General Assembly resolution, the purpose of Durban III is to celebrate a world conference that reveled in anti-Semitism and to adopt a final declaration that reaffirms the original Durban Declaration. That’s the Declaration supposedly to combat racism, xenophobia and related intolerance but that somehow manages to charge just one of the 192 UN members with racism, namely, Israel.
The Obama administration has given no indication that it will encourage EU allies to break ranks and boycott Durban III, by insisting on a vote on this resolution and voting against.
Second, the U.N. Human Rights Council is poised to hold an event in Geneva on June 15 also “in the context of the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration.” With the Obama administration on the Council it appears set to attend events over there hoping nobody will notice over here.
But the Council and U.N. High Commissioner Navi Pillay – a native of Durban and chief champion of the Durban Declaration – have planned a three-hour panel discussion featuring seven carefully selected speakers. They include, for instance, extremist Mireille Fanon-Mendes. As recently as April 25 of this year, Fanon-Mendes told the “Electronic Intifada” that Israel was an apartheid state and she supported the first and second Palestinian intifadas as well as blockade-running flotillas and the international prosecution of Israelis as war criminals.
The Durban illness runs deep. The U.N. human rights system, led by the High Commissioner and Human Rights Council, has perverted the fight against racism into a fight against the Jewish state, a democratic freedom-loving home to more than a million Arabs and a bulwark against the ravages of anti-Semitism for all Jews.
Remember that the streets of Durban pulsated with signs reading, “for the liberation of Quds, machine guns based on FAITH and ISLAM must be used” and “the martyr’s blood irrigates the tree of revolution in Palestine,” while the gross intolerance inside the Durban meeting halls ended on September 8, 2001. Given the inextricable connection between hate and violence, shunning Durban III on September 22 in New York City just days after the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was a no-brainer.
Now comes the hard part. U.N. demonization of Israel serves to justify Palestinian rejection of negotiations and coexistence, which in turn fuels U.N. support of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.
The cycle will only be broken if Palestinians and their U.N. enablers are made to face real consequences for attempting to reap the rewards of hatemongering.