durban II fight racism 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
As the UN's "Durban II" anti-racism conference is set to begin in Geneva on Monday, it is now clear that the behind-the-scenes diplomatic hustle by Jewish and pro-Israel NGOs to prevent countries from taking part in what is expected to be yet another anti-Israel fiasco was met with understanding by some governments, but fell on deaf ears in others.
While successes were fielded with countries like Canada, Holland and Australia abstaining from participating in - and so legitimizing - the conference, other countries, including two of the European Union's largest - England and France - have rebuffed lobbying efforts by NGOs that asked them to stay home. Germany initially planned to participate, but pulled out at the last minute.
B'nai Brith Canada CEO Dr. Frank Dimant, speaking to The Jerusalem Post before the German decision was announced Sunday evening, said that in his opinion, the participation of such countries was "the direct result of a deterioration of the status of Jewish groups" there.
"Basically, the Jewish groups there forfeited aggressive lobbying efforts out of a fear of rejection," he said.
Describing an environment increasingly less empathetic to Jewish groups and more inclined to intervene on behalf of burgeoning populations of Arab and Muslim immigrants, Dimant concluded that anti-Israel groups, at least in Europe, now had the upper hand when it came to lobbying certain governments.
"Sadly, the sophistication of anti-Israel groups and what has now become a coalition of hate, have made [lobbying] efforts more difficult for the Jewish groups, particularly in countries like England, where you saw a Lord in the House of Parliament threaten to storm the parliament building with 10,000 protesters if [Fitna, a film made by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders and perceived by many Muslims as offensive to their religion] was shown there. The Jewish groups have lost their footing."
Dimant expressed disappointment, saying, "I think there was an opportunity for the EU to make a decision collectively that [Durban II] is not acceptable. Canada gave them a way out and the US gave them a way out, but they stayed in."
"I had also hoped that Poland would have made a move here," Dimant continued.
"They've made so many great overtures in recent years toward the Jewish community, including the opening of a museum detailing 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland in downtown Warsaw. They had the opportunity to make a very symbolic move by staying away, but they didn't."
Dimant also lamented the Israeli government's "unclear" messages during the initial stages of Durban II, telling the Post that it, along with many Jewish groups worldwide, was originally preoccupied with "damage control," as opposed to pushing countries to stay out of the conference altogether.
"I think that in the initial stages there was a lot of confusion," Dimant said. "People were asking what the appropriate response to Durban II should be, and the Canadian government was ahead of even Israel in announcing that they would not attend. At a conference about anti-Semitism in Jerusalem a year ago, [then-foreign minister] Tzipi Livni announced that Israel was not going to attend Durban II, unless etc., etc., etc... Unless. You see? That in itself is a qualifier.
"I even got a letter from a prominent Jewish leader asking me, had I not heard that the emphasis was to be put on damage control and not lobbying governments to stay away?" he added.
Dimant did say that aggressive lobbying had not been necessary in Canada, because the current government there "sees eye to eye with Jewish groups and views Israel as an ally."
"The great paradox in Canada is that we have a government that is so understanding of the Canadian Jewish community and Israel, but on the other hand, we have academics and workers' unions who side with the Islamists, which adds to this climate of intimidation," he said. "What I think is interesting about the Canadian government is that they don't speak in the old clichÃ©s about Israel's right to exist and so on. They refer quite clearly to Israel as an ally in the war against terrorism."
Still, Dimant put the onus of failed lobbying efforts on the global Jewish community as a whole.
"The collective world Jewish voice was muted on calling for the boycott of Durban II," he said. "And the difficulty of advocating for Israel was increased because there was no clear message, the lines are changing every day."
Meanwhile, World Jewish Congress secretary-general Michael Schneider had his boots on the ground in Geneva on Sunday, and told the Post of extensive efforts by himself and other Jewish and pro-Israel NGOs to try and persuade larger EU countries like England and France to bail out of the conference up until the last minute.
Schneider said that his contacts with those countries had tried to portray their continued involvement in the conference as retaining the ability to change the texts if it degenerated into something like Durban I.
"But I think that's dead wrong," Schneider said. "Especially now that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is coming. It's almost picture-perfect that the biggest abusers of human rights will be addressing this panel."
Schneider also said he was keeping his eye on the Czech Republic.
"It will be interesting to see what the Czechs do as the incoming head of the EU," he said. "We're still trying to pick them off, but it's really a guessing game. At this point, we're shifting from lobbying them to stay out completely to wait and see who walks out, and when."