durban II assembly 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech in Geneva yesterday, the atmosphere in the UN's halls has not changed dramatically. Nonetheless, it seems that the students' feelings have. If yesterday we had hoped that our efforts could bring about positive outcomes, the Iranian president's unforgivable words before the UN changed the situation entirely.
We are on our own. We will fight for our causes and values since obviously the "great United Nations" is working under false pretenses. We are active students, each in our own country and community and it is clear that this is not the only place to speak our minds and achieve our goals. We might have known that already, but yesterday's events have made it even clearer.
The events of today have, yet again, taught us that being Jewish on UN territory is not at all simple. Attempting to address human rights, minority rights and racism in this forum, in an honest and dignified manner, is destined to fail.
This afternoon, the Jewish and Israeli students were present at a side-event titled "Human Rights, Discrimination and Islamophobia" organized by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. This panel touched on different topics regarding human rights violations and specifically dealt with Islamophobia. For more than an hour, the panel conducted its proceedings without any interruptions.
Sadly, we were in for a surprise as we quickly realized that representatives of NGOs and a few individuals in the audience came only to speak their mind, in an insulting manner, while hijacking the panel's higher purpose. During the Q&A segment, these individuals, both Arabs and non-Arabs, took the floor to promote hatred and radicalism.
One person asked the audience to stand in silence in memory of the Palestinians killed during the Gaza operation. We were shocked. Clearly, this had nothing to do with the event's purpose. We began the session by speaking about the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, mentioning that people are being killed there every single day. Sadly but surely, over the course of the meeting, the context and tone completely changed. There were a number of calls for an open debate on the title "Zionism is racism." The president of this panel, Charles Graves, did not quell these appeals and even alluded to the fact that he sympathizes with the sentiment expressed in them.
Every few minutes the audience applauded. Although there were not many supporters of this statement in the room, as Jewish students, each clap felt like a sharp knife. They were angry and well prepared; they had an audience and a UN platform to disseminate their hatred and vitriol. This show served as additional evidence (if any more were needed) that a UN event can be hijacked, even in the midst of an international human rights conference.
At the end of the session, I decided to approach an Iranian who, during the discussion, had angrily criticized Israel and the Jewish people, while quoting statements made by prominent Israeli politicians over who allegedly expressed severe anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric. During our conversation, I tried to explain to him what was wrong with the way he expressed his opinions, while questioning the authenticity of his quotes. It was important for me to address his claims through the eyes of a Jewish student living in Israel while making an effort to empathize with his struggle. We talked about Gaza, Sderot, Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime etc.
As I said before, this might not be the ideal situation for getting our message across. I am sure I did not change his mind but for me, at least it was a step in the right direction.
The writer is member of the International Jewish Delegation of WUJS to the Durban Review Conference in Geneva.