Diplomatic memories

The proposal to hold a ceremony to mark Durban I, brings to mind the most memorable week of my career – the only time I feared for my personal safety.

durban II assembly 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
durban II assembly 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
There has been much talk lately about whether the UN should hold a special ceremony next September to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The proposal brings to mind the most memorable week of my diplomatic career.
As a member of the US delegation to the Durban conference, I witnessed firsthand the contempt and hatred that supposedly honorable people felt toward Israel and the Jewish people. I watched demonstrators march through the streets chanting anti- Semitic slogans, collected numerous handouts that would have done the Nazis proud and saw conference participants openly carrying copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Virtually every session was hijacked by those seeking to turn the conference into a forum for demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. (I was not surprised that Natorei Karta stood literally arm in arm with Palestinians denouncing the “illegitimate Zionist entity.”) This was the only time in my career – including service in Iraq in 2004 and in Israel during both the First Gulf War and the Second Lebanon War – when I feared for my personal safety.
As a recent Jerusalem Post editorial (“Durban III farce,” December 19) observed, “The cynicism and intentional disregard of human rights and freedom” at Durban “was mindboggling.”
I was proud that the US withdrew from the conference when it became clear that there was no justification for our continued presence at this hate-fest. Our departure was coordinated as if it were an emergency evacuation in response to potential violent attack – complete with a situation room and armed security personnel.
I returned home at the end of the week to what I believed was the safety of American soil. I spoke at our synagogue that Shabbat about the dangers Israel and Jews outside the US faced.
I LEARNED how mistaken was my sense of security just a few days later. A report on the Durban conference was interrupted when someone asked us whether we had heard about two planes hitting the World Trade Center. As I once again participated in an emergency evacuation – this time leaving the State Department building itself – I watched plumes of smoke rising from the Pentagon just a few miles away. Three thousand people – many of them Jews, including personal friends – were murdered that day for no reason other than that they were Americans.
These two events confirmed something that I already knew: For better or worse, the fates of Israel and the US are inextricably linked. Both countries represent freedom, democracy and human rights. They serve as a bulwark against forces of evil that would return the world to its darkest times. We cannot hope to win approval and protection from those who would do us harm by renouncing our principles or by turning against each other. And even if we could, what value would there be in our continued existence at such a heavy cost? We are strongest when we recognize and act together to further our common values.
The UN has an opportunity to place itself squarely in one camp or the other. It can end the travesty that began in Durban nearly a decade ago by rejecting the call for a special commemorative event. It would thereby express clearly its opposition to the anti-Western, anti-Semitic, racist elements that are rearing their ugly heads.
Sadly, events in the years since Durban do not give one confidence that the UN will opt for the more constructive path. If anything, it has come to be even more firmly in the grasp of those who oppose Israel’s very existence. That is why it is critical for Israel, the US and their democratic allies to stand against the Durban pronouncements. Reference to protection of human rights by supporters of Durban in the UN is nothing more than a call for Israel’s destruction clothed in humanitarian language.
The writer served as a US diplomat for nearly 25 years. He was deputy director of the State Department’s Office of International Conferences from 2000 to 2002 and retired from the Foreign Service after completing his second assignment in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. He now lives in Zichron Ya’acov.