Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

Durban II's Alarming New Phase

Monday, October 6, 2008

Anne Bayefsky, Joint Statement of the Hudson Institute, the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists

October 6, 2008, Geneva, Switzerland.
The Second Substantive Session of the Durban II Preparatory Committee

Preparations for the UN second Durban racism conference have now moved into a new and alarming phase.

1. This week Jews mark the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. The committee's decision to hold an anti-racism meeting on this day confirms fears that Durban follow-up has become synonymous with antisemitism and the violation of racial and religious equality rather than its reverse.

2. The written contribution and oral statement today of the Organization of Islamic states contains some familiar strategies:
  • Allege Palestinians are the victims of Israeli racism - a throwback to the racist and discredited "Zionism is racism" slander in the General Assembly
  • Promote double-standards: Israel is singled out for condemnation while no mention of racism in any Muslim state is tolerated
  • Profess interest in non-discrimination based on religion, without mentioning endemic violations of freedom of religion which are common place in the very same states with this new found zeal for religious liberty
  • Use claims of Islamophobia to justify curtailing freedom of expression and stifling efforts to combat terrorism.
We strongly condemn any plan to use the OIC's contribution in any consolidated outcome document of the second Durban Conference.

3. The report of the regional preparatory meeting for Africa, the Abuja Declaration, takes its inspiration from "the values and principles of human dignity and equality enshrined in the...African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights." Those values include a vow to "undertak[e] to eliminate...zionism" - a racist statement in its own right. Furthermore, the Abuja Declaration
  • repeats the Israel is racist charge
  • challenges the right to freedom of expression
  • gives Islam special preference, and
  • attempts to restrain efforts to combat terrorism.
These elements are antithetical to the genuine battle against racism.

4. Iran, as a Vice-Chairperson of the Bureau of this Preparatory Committee and a member of the Group of Friends advising the Chairperson of the working group, is playing a leading role in the planning of this conference. And yet the statement of its President at the opening of the General Assembly included reference to "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists...[that] have been dominating...financial and monetary centers...[and] political decision-making centers...in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner." He describes "the Zionist network" as "a small number of acquisitive and invasive people." These words were met by a round of applause from the assembled states and a hug from the General Assembly President.

This, of course, is classic antisemitism - the very racism and xenophobia that the second Durban conference purports to oppose. By putting and retaining Iran in a position of authority in the planning of this conference, its authenticity as a vehicle for defeating racism is discredited.

5. The report of the intersessional working group is an alarming document. Its reference to all the victims named in the Durban Declaration is a clear call to include the DDPA claim that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism - again a revision of the 'Zionism is racism' slander. Accompanying this are recent statements in the framework of follow-up to the Durban conference to redefine antisemitism as meaning something other than the hatred of Jews and applying to Arabs and Muslims.

6. The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights begins her tenure by criticizing, not the substance of the Durban Declaration, but the decision of Canada, Israel and the United States not to participate in the Durban process. Contrary to her claims, the antisemitism of the first Durban conference was not merely a result of NGOs on the sidelines - as paragraph 63 of the governmental Declaration attests. Nor was the Declaration as a whole adopted by consensus, since the U.S. and Israel did not participate and substantial reservations were made by numerous states. Furthermore, Durban "has given us a comprehensive plan of action to combat racism in all its manifestations" only if one accepts the demonization of Israel is a legitimate formula for combating racism rather than encouraging it.

The slogan of the Durban Review Conference is more accurately "United Against Racism: Dignity and Justice for All - except Jews" and the High Commissioner would do well to find an alternative venue for a genuine campaign to combat racism.