RHR joins concerns over Durban II

Rabbis for Human Rights, a left-wing group, fears conference can again become an anti-Semitic fest.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
The left-wing Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) decided on Thursday to sign on to a petition of NGOs expressing concern that the 2009 follow-up conference to the Durban Conference of 2001 could be hijacked by anti-Semitic and anti-Israel parties. The organization is a trans-denominational group of some 90 Israeli rabbis who have campaigned for the rights of Palestinians and foreign workers in Israel, among other issues. In 2001, the group drew criticism for participating, together with a handful of other Israeli NGOs, in the Durban conference amid the blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel campaign that took place there. "Durban I was pretty awful," said Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of RHR. "Given the fact that there is a need for the world community to seriously address issues of racism, it would be very unfortunate for this conference to be hijacked again and not be able to fulfill the important purposes for which it's being convened." According to Ascherman, "that Israel has committed human rights violations [is an issue that] can appropriately be discussed at a conference like this. But if you allow the conference to be hijacked as if Israel is the only place in the world where there are issues of racism and human rights, then it makes a farce of the whole thing. We're not trying to protect Israel from being criticized, but as people who are really concerned with human rights and racism, and think it is important that there be a body among the community of nations dealing with these things, we don't want to see another hijacking." RHR will add its name to the Statement of Core Principles for WCAR Follow Up, a document already signed by the Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights First, the European Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith International and other Jewish and human rights organizations. The petition notes that "many civil society representatives were disappointed [at Durban I] when the NGO process, which raised the profile of important contemporary racism problems and the historic wounds of slavery and discrimination, was discredited" by anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activism at the conference. The petition then states that "the global effort to eradicate racism cannot be advanced by branding whole peoples with a stigma of ultimate evil, fomenting hateful stereotyping in the name of human rights." Instead, signers "pledge to reject hatred and incitement in all its forms, including anti-Semitism, to learn from the shortcomings of the 2001 WCAR, and to work together in a spirit of mutual respect." The move may be part of a trend that sees even human rights NGOs in Israel growing more wary of international bodies that single Israel out for human rights violations. "I think it's expanding," said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, head of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University and executive director of NGO Monitor. "There is a learning process taking place. Rabbis for Human Rights are among the first of the NGOs who were too quiet before and during 2001 to have expressed a clear position that seeks to avoid a repetition of that disaster. That's important." At NGO Monitor, "we believe there are also some people at Amnesty Israel who understand the importance [of this] and they need to make those concerns public, and we would expect that B'tselem and other groups who claim a human rights mandate would take a leading position along with RHR."