Will Durban II be a replay of racist Durban I?

Not one EU country has spoken out since the UN released a blueprint for the April '09 conference.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Is the United Nations' follow-up to the racist 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism headed for the same fate? Perhaps. In response to the newly released UN blueprint for next April's Durban II in Geneva, EU members need to defend the red lines set by France, the UK and the Netherlands. What went wrong with Durban I? Despite its supposedly universal intentions, compromises were made to satisfy the non-aligned group of 118 countries, dominated by Islamic states. Slavery was and is evil. But by addressing only the trans-Atlantic slave trade of previous centuries while ignoring the modern Arab slave trade and other forms of slavery, the 2001 conference showed itself to be more concerned with scoring points than promoting human rights. SIMILARLY, THE conference's condemnation of Western European colonialism became tainted when it omitted mention of far more recent colonial crimes - be it Russian colonialism in Ukraine, Armenia and the Baltics, or China's ongoing repression of Tibet. To make matters worse, the entire Durban I agenda was hijacked by anti-Israel forces, led by Iran and Yasser Arafat, who showed up in person. Then as now, the lead-up was formative. Six months before Durban I, at the preparatory Asian meeting in Teheran, the 57-strong Organization of the Islamic Conference led the conference to single out Israel, accusing it of "ethnic cleansing" and committing a "new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity." After international interventions, Durban's final declaration was toned down. Nevertheless, it expressed concern about "the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation," and recognized "the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes." The US delegation walked out. At the end of the conference the Canadian representative said: "Canada is still here only because we wanted to have our voice decry the attempts at this conference to delegitimize the State of Israel." Far worse, though, were the nongovernmental proceedings. Goebbels-like caricatures of Jews circulated freely. Jewish activists were harassed. The final NGO statement declared Israel a "racist apartheid state" guilty of "genocide." The text was so odious that even Mary Robinson, the UN rights chief who had been criticized for appeasing anti-Israel forces, refused to accept it. The late Democratic Representative Tom Lantos of California, a US delegate, said "this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period." WILL DURBAN II suffer the same fate? Some fear it is inevitable. Canada has already announced that it will not participate. The US and Israel will also stay away, unless it is proven that Durban II will not be another platform for anti-Semitic hatred. That leaves the EU. It has been clear in resisting attempts by Algeria, Pakistan and other Islamic states to alter the agreed mandate with a condemnation of "defamation of religions" - i.e., the unflattering Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as milder forms of free speech deemed unacceptable to Islam. It has been ambivalent, however, in its response to the renewed attempts to tar Israel. On the one hand, France and some other leading EU states have declared attacks on Israel to be a red line. "[T]the Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs that turned the conference into a forum against Israel," said President Nicolas Sarkozy in February. "France will not allow a repetition." His position was unequivocal: "If our legitimate demands are not taken into account, we will disengage from the process." Similar warnings were expressed by UK Minister for Europe Jim Murphy and Netherlands Interior Minister Maxime Verhagen. BUT SINCE the UN on May 27 released a blueprint for Durban II that again singles out Israel, not one EU state has spoken out. The issues to be included in an April 2009 declaration confirm that the planners of Durban II, headed by Libya, have again set their sights on the Jewish state. First, under the header "Victims of racism," the draft makes special reference to "the plight of the Palestinians." Second, under "contemporary forms of racism as reported by different countries," Israel is singled out by Iran, a vice chair of the conference's organizing bureau. In other words, the train to Durban II has already left the station. Why is the EU failing to defend the principles laid down by France, the UK and the Netherlands? Those who would like to give the new conference a genuine chance to combat intolerance need to know that Durban II will not be a repeat of the Durban I debacle. The test - the EU's test - is now. The writer, former US ambassador to Romania and special presidential emissary for the Cyprus conflict, is chairman of UN Watch and a past president of the American Jewish Committee.