German gov't slammed for not following US lead to stay away

The German government's decision to not follow the US lead and withdraw from the Durban II UN anti-racism conference before its scheduled opening April 20 in Geneva drew sharp attacks this week from German and Israeli critics. The previous conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001 was marred by anti-Semitism and aggressive hatred of Israel, prompting the US and Israel to walk out. In the wake of the decision by Israel, the US, and Canada not to participate in Durban II, observers in Israel and Germany have expressed frustration and disappointment with the Social Democratic Party-led Foreign Ministry's failure to confront global anti-Semitism and prevent the demonization of Israel. Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a German publicist and Middle East expert who heads the non-profit relief organization Wadi in northern Iraq, told The Jerusalem Post that Germany's decision to participate in Durban II is "simply scandalous. They should have long since taken a position and boycotted that thing. But their silence speaks volumes." A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry told the Post that the Germans are involved in the "text negotiations" and "efforts to prevent the misuse of the Durban processes." When asked if the German government will participate in a conference infected by anti-Semitism and loathing of Israel, she said that a "decision has not been reached." She argued that the "German government is advocating a worldwide fight against racism." But in an e-mail to the Post, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, chairman of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, wrote: "Officials have repeatedly stated that given their history and what they call the special German obligation to fight racism, they must be present at a UN anti-racism conference. "This is absurd - Germany should be the first country to denounce and stay away from any activity that is anti-Semitic, as is the case with the Durban process, and is based on the abuse of the rhetoric racism and human rights to promote hatred and the singling out of Israel. The German position, including the support of many anti-Israel NGOs and foundations that claim to promote peace and democracy, but instead are leading anti-Israel campaigns, is fundamentally immoral." An Israeli Embassy spokesman in Berlin declined to comment on Germany's presence at Durban II. An amalgam of German institutions combating anti-Semitism, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany, have appealed to the German government to stay away from the anti-Israel conference, asserting that the 2001 Durban conference was a precursor to the replicating of anti-Jewish hostility and hatred of Israel at this year's conference. The Post has obtained a copy of a letter sent to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in early September, which urged the Foreign Ministry to not participate in a "recognizably anti-Semitic propaganda event within the framework of the UN and in the process cooperate with such openly anti-Semitic forces like Iran." The Coordinating Council of German non-Governmental Organizations Against Anti-Semitism, an umbrella organization unifying diverse NGOs, initiated the protest letter. "Following the boycott declarations from Canada, Israel and the US, we expect a positive response to this request. Germany should give a clear signal, especially out of responsibility for its history, and should not take part in the 'Durban Review Conference,' in consideration also of the goals of the German Bundestag resolution of November 4, 2008, said Klaus Faber, a representative of the Coordinating Council and former state secretary in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. "Only in this way can we prevent the predictable anti-Semitic diatribes at the Durban II conference from being legitimized by Germany," he told the Post. Nasrin Amirsedghi, a German-Iranian intellectual who fled the Islamic Republic of Iran, told the Post that, "Since 2001, despotic states under the leadership of Iran have sat and dominated at the anti-racism conference, at which they instrumentalize Western achievements for their intolerance and hostility to Jews and against the principles of democracy and freedom. "If Germany doesn't boycott the Durban Review Conference in April 2009, it must share historical guilt for the second time. It will be the end of Germany's credibility with regard to Nazi atrocities."