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Let's say you wanted to hold a conference to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Wouldn't it be a good idea to fairly represent the Israeli point of view? Might it be counterproductive if the conference were to degenerate into an anti-Israel hate fest? What if this did not happen by accident, but by design? You might conclude that the purpose of a conference like that would not be to promote peace at all, but to build the case and groundwork for Israel's destruction. And you might therefore be surprised were you to discover that such a conference were being sponsored not by a virulently anti-Israel organization, but by such august bodies as the United Nations and the European Parliament.
Yet there is no other conclusion that can be drawn simply by glancing at the agenda of the "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace," which is to be held next Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels. The thrust is obvious right from the opening plenary, which will feature five speakers representing: the UN Secretary General, the European Parliament, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, "Palestine," and the International Coordinating Network for Palestine.
If anti-Israel groups want to hold a conference completely excluding an Israeli point of view, there is nothing stopping them. But what are the UN Secretary General's office and the European Parliament doing there? How does such a conference "promote peace"? Actually, there will be Israelis there. As Hillel Neuer of UN Watch puts it: "The conference will showcase Arab presenters who justify suicide bombings and accuse Israel of being vile, racist and illegitimate, and for balance it will also feature Israeli presenters who justify suicide bombings and accuse Israel of being vile, racist and illegitimate."
We know what this looks like because it has happened before. The infamous 2001 Durban conference "against racism" restored the "Zionism is racism" canard a decade after that resolution was repealed by the UN General Assembly, and openly excluded anti-Semitism from the hatreds it was ostensibly meant to combat.
At Durban a large contingent wore T-shirts emblazoned "Occupation = Colonialism =Racism, End Israeli Apartheid." Palestinian NGOs distributed leaflets depicting Hitler and the caption, "What if I had won?" The answer: "There would be no Israel and no Palestinian bloodshed." South African activists, including local Arabs and Muslims, marched through the conference area chanting, "What we have done to apartheid in South Africa, must be done to Zionism in Palestine."
The Durban conference became so hate-filled that the US and Israeli delegations felt compelled to walk out. But what about all the countries that were embarrassed, issued mumbled "regrets," and stayed? What about the distinguished human rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which acted as if they were innocent bystanders to this melee?
Next week, the UN is holding a planning meeting in Geneva for a 2009 follow-on conference to Durban. Given the groups behind this meeting, we can expect it will be more of the same. Before Durban, well-meaning groups and governments could say they were blindsided. Now that we and they know what's in store, what can be done to prevent another fiasco? First, our government must launch a campaign to compel the UN and Europe to choose: either they make these conferences fair and constructive, or they drop their association with them and shut them down.
The Polish members of the European Parliament deserve credit for showing the way by announcing their refusal to participate in the Brussels conference. As Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish MEP, was quoted as saying by the web site Europa21: "Although there is no official statement that Israel must be pushed down to the sea there, the choice of subjects ... shows that it will be a biased, conflict generating conference. Actually we can call it anti-Israeli." MEP Konrad Szymanski stated, "I am astonished that the European Parliament allowed such activity in its building."
This is a time when UN and European claims to be honest brokers and even friends of Israel will be put to the test. It is not possible to press for peace and to sponsor and participate in the fomenting of hate. It is not enough to retroactively express "regret" at outcomes that were foregone conclusions. The time to stop Durban II is now.