Durban II draft document 'getting worse'

Ambassador to UN in Geneva tells 'Post' problematic sections on Israel, free speech, religion, sexuality.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
The draft document for the United Nations anti-racism conference, dubbed Durban II, is problematic both for Israel and western democracies in general, Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Roni Leshno Yaar told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Besides issues relating to Israel, the draft has problematic paragraphs regarding free speech, defamation of religion and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he said. "At this stage it is not possible to say what in the text would improve, if at all. In fact I expect the text to get only worse on all issues which are important for western democracy," Leshno Yaar said in a telephone interview from Geneva. He spoke as representatives from 190 nations have been meeting in Geneva to debate the language for a document in which Israel is alluded to as a "racist" and "apartheid" power. The final draft will be presented at an April meeting in Geneva, which is the follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place in Durban, South Africa. Israel and the United States walked out of the 2001 conference to protest its disintegration into an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate-fest. Israel and Canada have already announced they do not intend to participate in this April's conference in Geneva. The United States has yet to announce whether it will participate, but it has been present in Geneva this week with an eye toward helping to produce an acceptable draft. On Friday, the State Department stated that it had gone to the preparatory meetings in Geneva "to work with countries that want to achieve a successful review conference" and added that the United States had "strong reservations about the direction of the conference, as the draft document singles out Israel for criticism, places unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression under the guise of defaming religion, and calls for payment of reparations for slavery." While in Geneva, US representatives met with 30 national delegations to outline their concerns. The initial draft of the Durban II text, posted on the United Nations Web site, spoke of the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation. "A foreign occupation founded on settlements, laws based on racial discrimination with the aim of continuing domination of the occupied territories," it adds, is a "contemporary form of apartheid and a serious threat to international peace and security." An alternative paragraph calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and refers to the "racial policies of the occupying power." Israel itself is not named in the document, although the reader can clearly understand where it is being referenced. Israel has boycotted the preparatory meetings but has kept close tabs on the proceedings and has been lobbying countries to abstain, Leshno Yaar said. In the last week, the Palestinians tried to introduce language into the document regarding the 2004 advisory ruling by the International Court of Justice at The Hague against the security barrier, said Leshno Yaar. The Americans were present but did not appear to have made improvement in the document, which he said "is getting worse every day." Irwin Cotler, a Canadian MP and former justice minister, told the Post that the conference had been initially designed to speak about global issues relating to racism without singling out any country or group. Israel was the only country that was alluded to in this way, he said. "Any reference to Israel, directly or indirectly, is wrong and illegitimate, not only in the eyes of Israel but also in the eyes of all western countries," said Leshno Yaar. On Sunday the Jewish Agency's Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism held a meeting at the JA's Board of Directors Conference in Jerusalem. While a briefing was given on the state of anti-Semitism worldwide, the focus was almost solely on Durban II. While the task force has been following the plenary meetings currently being held in Geneva closely, a sense of doubt was expressed at the meeting that US efforts to change the conference's direction would be successful, while others doubted that the US delegation would walk away from the conference at all, as was the case at Durban I in 2001. "As far as we believe, Durban II is going to be the anti-Semitic event of 2009," said Amos Hermon, the head of the task force. "It looks worse than we expected, even though it's not yet clear what the end result will be." The meeting also broached the possibility of demonstrations, the use of Holocaust imagery to draw comparisons between Israel's recent military strike in Gaza and the systematic murder of millions during World War II and an all-out "hate-fest" on behalf of anti-Israel NGO's present at the conference. "Operation Cast Lead is going to take center stage at Durban II, and we have to be ready for that." Hermon continued. "It was in everyone's homes, on everyone's television sets, and it's going to be everywhere in Geneva as well."