Durban Watch

Durban II

EYEontheUN ALERT - February 26, 2009

Why is the U.S. still entertaining Durban II?
Obama should have nixed UN's hatefest by now

Durban II - the UN "anti-racism" conference scheduled for April 20, 2009 in Geneva - is fast approaching. Well aware that the U.S. could undermine the credibility of this global human rights hoax instantaneously by deciding not to go, the Obama administration has still not announced its intentions. Canada and Israel have pulled out and, at the highest levels, Israel has asked President Obama not to attend. What lies behind the U.S.'s delay?

For one, Obama is making new friends. The administration's decision last week to participate in planning meetings for Durban II was very well received by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

On February 21, 2009, the OIC "welcomed" the move as a "positive development." OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said it "would be widely perceived by the Muslim world as a credible signal of the new U.S. Administration's goodwill and desire to introduce a fresh, fair and objective approach to the . . . Middle East peace process as well as to rejuvenate the United States' positive image throughout the Muslim nations."

Since both the Durban Declaration from 2001 and the current draft declaration for Durban II claim that Palestinian Arabs are victims of Israeli racism, U.S. agreement would certainly rejuvenate America's relationship with Islamic states. Apparently, the President is tantalized by the prospect.

The second reason for the delay seems to be that Obama's new cabinet-level UN Ambassador Susan Rice is flexing her muscles. From Rice's perspective, Obama's commitment to multilateralism means embracing everything UN in sight, starting with joining the UN Human Rights Council. The idea is akin to diving headlong into the UN's equivalent of the shallow end.

Recognizing the council's irreparable flaws, the Bush administration refused to run for a seat on the UN body, which was first created in 2006. Since that time, the council has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other states in the world combined. Aside from Israel-bashing, in its short life the council has terminated human rights investigations into such model citizens as Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Iran and Uzbekistan. Last March it trashed its only freedom of expression resolution, and in June of last year its president ruled criticism of human rights outrages made in the name of Islam off limits in council sessions.

The Human Rights Council, however, also serves as the preparatory committee for Durban II. Pro-Durbanites argue that in order to join the council at election time in May, the U.S. should first impress new-found friends in the OIC at the Durban conference a few weeks earlier. Never mind the fact that a U.S. vote has no chance whatsoever to change actual outcomes at the council, where the OIC holds the balance of power.

A third element in the delay in rejecting Durban attendance, which cannot be discounted, appears to be the stance of a few members of the American Jewish community. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has chosen not to call for an American pullout from Durban II. On February 23, 2009 David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, explained it to the Jerusalem Post this way: "Our position on Durban II is clear. We have publicly praised France and the Netherlands, among other countries, for insisting on clear red lines and threatening to withdraw if they are breached. We believe the United States shouldn't attend the Conference under the present circumstances." Despite expressing serious concerns about Durban II, the AJC position deliberately falls short of a flat-out call on Obama to stay away.

Maintaining an emphasis on future prospects for Durban II, just weeks away from the start date, seems to be at odds with both AJC reports and the Israeli assessment. Everybody knows that the European Union red lines for Durban II - which included "singling out one region of the world" and attacks on free speech in the name of "defamation of religions" - were breached long ago. The AJC's own UN monitoring body, UN Watch, reported the breach had occurred in October 28, 2008, in a report aptly called "Shattering the Red Lines: The Durban II Draft Declaration."

In fact, on the same day Harris made the carefully-worded statement containing no request on the Administration to pull out now - purportedly because circumstances may change for the better - Israel's Ambassador to Geneva Roni Leshno Yaar said: "I expect the text to get only worse on all issues which are important for Western democracy." Pro-Durban II advocates in the Obama administration are using the appearance of this American Jewish organization operating at odds with the Israeli government as cover.

Not only are "present circumstances" sufficient to justify staying away and discrediting Durban II, they have deteriorated. On Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, released her "contribution" to the conference. Since the High Commissioner will serve as Durban II's Secretary-General, her views carry serious weight.

Pillay's report made numerous detailed recommendations but was ominously silent on many fronts. For instance, she failed to advocate that it would be wrong to single out any state in the Durban II declaration. She did not recommend that current draft condemnations of Israel be removed. She knew that the right of Jews to return to Israel - the self-determination of the Jewish people - is said to be racist in current draft provisions. And yet this human rights authority figure said nothing about it. She did announce, however: "We must reaffirm the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action without reservation." That's the same Declaration that says Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism.

The Obama Administration has everything it needs to decide the matter. While the Bush administration did not participate directly in Durban II planning, it carefully monitored the dozens of preparatory meetings since they began in August 2007. And now the State Department has added last week's four days of "engagement."

The administration, therefore, knows that Durban II will provide: a global megaphone for anti-semites in the name of combating racism and xenophobia, a forum for religious extremists to play-act as guardians of the freedom of religion, a stage for state sponsors of terrorism to fuel the sentiment that counter-terrorism activities are racist plots - and a vehicle for dictators to champion limitations on free speech in the name of human dignity.

With only a few days of scheduled planning meetings left before the conference, it is decision time for President Obama. Whose side will he be on?

This article first appeared in The New York Daily News.