The absence of the world's leading democracies at the UN-sponsored Durban III anti-racism ten-year commemoration event, which opened in New York on Thursday, sparked controversy at the UN General Assembly meeting and served as a setback for the Durban process.
Dubbed Durban after the city in South Africa where the first conference took place in 2001, the anti-racism process has become, according to many of the 14 countries that pulled out of Durban III, a political event to gut the advancement of human rights and foment hatred of the Jewish state.
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Israel's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, criticized the world body for holding Thursday's event and hosting speeches from countries such as Iran.
"We cannot -- and will not -- ignore such a willful misuse and abuse of the United Nations," Proser said in emailed comments. "Many of the world's free nations are joining Israel in refusing to give legitimacy to this year's Durban Commemoration. Fourteen nations are boycotting the event outright. This is a powerful message." The Durban conference "and the anti-Semitic atmosphere in which it was held was a particularly unpleasant and divisive chapter in the UN's history," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement this month. "It is not an event that should be celebrated."
Anne Bayefsky, a leading human rights scholar, who organized a
counter-conference on Thursday to challenge the misguided notion of the
UN event, sees no reason to honor an anti-racism conference that has
become infected with racism and modern anti-Semitism. Bayefsky cites the
example from Durban I where a sizable number of conference
participants openly championed the Hitler movement's elimination of
European Jewry and advocated a Nazi solution for Israel's Jews. Scores
of banners in massive street demonstrations in Durban stated “Hitler
should have finished the job,” and handouts with Hitler’s face read,
“What if I had won? The good things: there would be no Israel.”
The world leaders from the 179 countries who participated in Durban III
adopted a political declaration ,which purports to renew “ their
commitment for real action to prevent and combat racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to focus on the
concerns of the victims.” According to critics, the Durban political
declaration, which was reaffirmed at the commemoration event, singles
out and attacks only Israel for criticism and alleged violations of
Ambassador Isabelle Pico from Monaco, who represented Western Europe's
countries, alluded to the noticeable lack of their member countries at
the event. “While a number of countries from our group are not
participating and in spite of the fact that some countries do not
participate in this process,” Western European countries will continue
to promote equality.
France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Germany
skipped the Durban III event because those countries' foreign ministries
viewed the Durban III planning process and Thursday's commemoration
event to be contaminated with anti-Semitism, racism, and hatred of
foreigners. The Eastern Europe nations of Poland ,Bulgaria, and the
Czech Republic boycotted the commemoration event for similar reasons.
The United States, Israel, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand pulled the
plug on their participation in the event as well .
While no country or individual leader was cited during the speeches, UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indirectly referenced Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tirades against Israel at the Geneva-based Durban
II event in 2009. UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged nations on Thursday not to
use the issue for "inflammatory rhetoric," a reference to attempts to
brand Israel as racist. "We are all aware that the original Durban
conference and its follow-up two years ago caused immense controversy,"
the UN secretary-general said.
"We should condemn anyone who uses this platform to subvert that effort
with inflammatory rhetoric, baseless assertions and hateful speech. Our
common commitment must be to focus on the real problems of racism and
intolerance," he said.
Ban Ki-moon was the only speaker to tell the General Assembly to take a
stand against “anti-Semitism” He also called on the member states to
fight Islamophobia and persecution against Christians and discrimination
based on gender and sexual orientation.
The other diplomatic speakers were from Sudan, Indonesia, and Jamaica.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said
“the lead up to this commemoration has been undoubtedly challenging, in
no small part because the issues are complex and sensitive. No country
can claim to be free of racism but we must be resolute in finding the
courage to unite and move ahead together.”
In a New York Daily News
opinion piece in August titled “Meet the UN's anti-Israel
'anti-discrimination' czar, Navi Pillay”, Anne Bayefsky, the expert on
the UN, wrote that Pillay has “ been distracted by her anti-Israel and
anti-American agenda since taking office in 2008. Pillay is perhaps best
known for her unremitting defense of the notorious Goldstone report and
for having questioned the legality of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.”
The UN-sponsored Goldstone report accused Israel of war crimes in
2008/2009 during operation cast lead in the Gaza Strip. The report's
main author, lawyer Richard Goldstone, has retracted the finding of war
crimes against Israel and shifted the blame to Hamas, the terror entity
that controls Gaza, as the responsible party for transgressions of
human rights and international law.
Reuters contributed to report.