Opinion: Why we should be at Durban II

"We must demonstrate the defiant battle cry of the ghetto fighters: Mir seinen do - We are here!'

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
On Monday, April 20 - perhaps appropriately coinciding with both Hitler's birthday and the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day - the 2001 Durban UN World Conference Against Racism will resume in Geneva. Led by Iran, Libya and their allies, the gathering - despite Western blandishments - will again compulsively focus upon denigrating Israel. Jewish organizations have long been debating the pros and cons of participation. Most agreed that governments - wherever possible - be encouraged to demonstrate their disdain for the human rights violators and patrons of terror that have pulled the Durban strings. There is, however, another battle to be fought in Geneva: the "Durban behind Durban" arena of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Several of these players control budgets greater than many UN member states and boast celebrity-bedecked boards. Their paramount agenda is Palestine, with a vested interest in perpetuation of the Middle East conflict. These organizations had funded the 2001 radicalized NGO Forum held alongside the UN intergovernmental conference. Though somewhat embarrassed by the violent anti-Semitic expression they had patronized, these NGOs have since then continued to endorse implementation of an eight-point plan conceived in Durban. AS THE only Jewish member elected to the forum steering committee, I was present at discussions of this blueprint for sustained assault on Israel. Modelled on the campaigns against apartheid South Africa, a series of legal, educational, commercial, cultural, academic and diplomatic measures were to demonize and isolate the Jewish state. Thus was launched the "Durban module," with mantras extolling the Nakba as the only Holocaust, promoting BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and attacking the "apartheid wall." The module was to be disseminated via the media (especially the Internet), universities, trade unions, churches, NGOs and all UN agencies. It took off in 2003 through the Brazilian-based World Social Forum anti-globalization movement and its satellites, especially in Europe. "Durban behind Durban" persisted through the inter-Durban period, as the module has effectively blurred distinctions between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: • 2001 Durban - marchers against racism carried banners revering Hitler • 2003 Porto Allegre - they proclaimed "Nazis, Yankees, Jews - No More Chosen Peoples" • 2006 Athens - neo-Nazis and Hizbullah acolytes distributed tracts calling for the rebirth of the Hitler-mufti alliance. Each of these forums correlated with spikes in anti-Semitic violence. Likewise, the spread of Gaza war demonstrations was neither spontaneous nor copycat. The strategy was rehearsed in September 2008 at the Malmo European Social Forum. Orchestrated on each continent by national Palestine support committees which were put in place to drive the Durban module, the same obsessively anti-Israel groups have hijacked the road to Durban II. At the Brasilia Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) last June, Afro-Latin groups claimed that "a Jewish campaign had stopped the funding that would have brought them to Geneva." At the same time, they acknowledged that their own grievances had been eclipsed by the Palestine issue. At an NGO Forum planning session last October in Geneva, the chair's response to my concern over a possible repeat of the 2001 violence was candid: "The Wiesenthal Center asks me to guarantee that there will be no anti-Semitism in Geneva. There may be anti-Semitism or even Semitism, but we will hold the NGO Forum." To stress the point, threats from a Libyan-backed activist intimidated further intervention. THOUGH THE UN has refused meeting halls to such agitators, "Durban behind Durban" is set to continue off-site in Geneva, with an even more focused NGO Forum than that of 2001, albeit smaller. "United against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation" will immediately precede Durban II, with all the usual suspects. Holocaust Remembrance Day will be marked as "From Warsaw to Gaza: Memory and Responsibility" led by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. "United Against Racism" is for a coalition of Palestinians, African-Americans, indigenous, migrants and renegade Jews to campaign for "an end to US aid to Israel, support for 'BDS,' a fight against Islamophobia and against anti-Arab racism." While the intergovernmental conference debates hostile resolutions, the "Durban behind Durban" NGO war will be no less unrelenting. It is there that the campaigns, vectors, calendars and militants will further develop the Durban module even after the Geneva conference concludes. Their aim is to wreak maximum harm on Israel and the Jewish people. Being in Geneva, we are part of the process of political mortgaging within the NGO community: endorsing other victims of racism whose agendas are hijacked by our enemies; championing freedom of expression and seeking common denominators for a true caucus against discrimination and intolerance. Yes, we must be at Durban II on the NGO front, demonstrating the defiant battle cry of the ghetto fighters: "Mir seinen do/We are here!" The writer is director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in Paris, and was head of the Jewish Caucus at Durban I.