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Sunday, April 05, 2009

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is a human rights catastrophe. So why did U.S. President Barack Obama decide this week that the United States would join it?

Next month, the council will hold elections, with U.S. membership a foregone conclusion. This means that the United States will soon be sitting down with Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China to talk about human rights. Not human rights in Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China, mind you. But human rights in Israel and the United States.

The Human Rights Council is the United Nations' lead human rights body. Created in 2006 by the General Assembly as a "reformed" Human Rights Commission, the council has taken the worst elements of its predecessor and magnified them. Former U.S. President George W. Bush decided not to join it after various U.S.-suggested reforms -- such as minimal standards of respect for human rights among member states -- were rejected. Now, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, claims that "working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum." The U.S. State Department speaks of future reform.

In other words, the United States is joining a fundamentally flawed body in order to make it something that it isn't. Disingenuous, to say the least. The council already is the reform. Its predecessor lasted half a century, and the same stumbling blocks that prevented fixing of the system in 2006 are still present and more entrenched than ever. The majority of the members of the U.N. General Assembly are not fully free democracies. Getting serious about democratic rights and freedoms is not their priority.

The council itself is controlled by human rights abusers who like it just the way it is. Membership is determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, with the African and Asian groups holding the majority. In turn, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hold a majority in each of the African and Asian groups. This gives the OIC the balance of power. When the going gets tough, the single U.S. vote, or the seven votes of the "Western European and Others Group" (WEOG), amount to a hill of beans. Resolutions are continually watered down for the sake of artificial consensus or adopted over the objection of every WEOG member. Just last week, we saw another sorry example of this phenomenon, with the adoption of a resolution on the "defamation of religions." What does restricting free speech in the name of "religion" have to do with protecting individual human rights?

By letting some of the world's worst regimes rub shoulders with its leading democracy, the United States becomes an enabler. These governments don't share Western or universal values. They use the council to: (1) feign interest in human rights, (2) keep the focus on Israel and away from themselves, (3) manufacture victim status, (4) encourage liberal guilt and concomitant financial responsibility, and (5) undermine the universal application of real human rights standards.

The record is incontrovertible. The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel. And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. There have been 10 regular sessions on human rights for all, and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. The council excludes only Israel from the key negotiating and information-sharing meetings of every regional group. It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms" in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been "discontinued."

Absolutely none of that will change with the United States sitting in the front row, Obama's rhetorical skills notwithstanding. On the contrary, joining this farce means accepting the discriminatory agenda and attending WEOG meetings with a sign reading "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed" hanging on the door.

The Council's one new device -- the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) -- was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all UN states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.

Ironically, in the name of "engagement" the United States will now repeatedly be drawn into confrontations that could have been avoided. With Canada leaving the council, the European Union spineless in the face of OIC opposition, and the international human rights system now opposed to "naming and shaming," the United States will have to rock the boat if it wants to avoid joining a corrupt consensus. This will mean voting against OIC-driven resolutions and proposing "controversial" condemnations of any state other than Israel.

President Obama has waded into quicksand, which will drown both U.S. efforts to protect human rights and his sought-after reputation as their champion.

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is a human rights catastrophe. So why did U.S. President Barack Obama decide this week that the United States would join it?

Next month, the council will hold elections, with U.S. membership a foregone conclusion. This means that the United States will soon be sitting down with Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China to talk about human rights. Not human rights in Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China, mind you. But human rights in Israel and the United States.

The Human Rights Council is the United Nations' lead human rights body. Created in 2006 by the General Assembly as a "reformed" Human Rights Commission, the council has taken the worst elements of its predecessor and magnified them. Former U.S. President George W. Bush decided not to join it after various U.S.-suggested reforms -- such as minimal standards of respect for human rights among member states -- were rejected. Now, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, claims that "working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum." The U.S. State Department speaks of future reform.

In other words, the United States is joining a fundamentally flawed body in order to make it something that it isn't. Disingenuous, to say the least. The council already is the reform. Its predecessor lasted half a century, and the same stumbling blocks that prevented fixing of the system in 2006 are still present and more entrenched than ever. The majority of the members of the U.N. General Assembly are not fully free democracies. Getting serious about democratic rights and freedoms is not their priority.

The council itself is controlled by human rights abusers who like it just the way it is. Membership is determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, with the African and Asian groups holding the majority. In turn, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hold a majority in each of the African and Asian groups. This gives the OIC the balance of power. When the going gets tough, the single U.S. vote, or the seven votes of the "Western European and Others Group" (WEOG), amount to a hill of beans. Resolutions are continually watered down for the sake of artificial consensus or adopted over the objection of every WEOG member. Just last week, we saw another sorry example of this phenomenon, with the adoption of a resolution on the "defamation of religions." What does restricting free speech in the name of "religion" have to do with protecting individual human rights?

By letting some of the world's worst regimes rub shoulders with its leading democracy, the United States becomes an enabler. These governments don't share Western or universal values. They use the council to: (1) feign interest in human rights, (2) keep the focus on Israel and away from themselves, (3) manufacture victim status, (4) encourage liberal guilt and concomitant financial responsibility, and (5) undermine the universal application of real human rights standards.

The record is incontrovertible. The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel. And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. There have been 10 regular sessions on human rights for all, and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. The council excludes only Israel from the key negotiating and information-sharing meetings of every regional group. It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms" in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been "discontinued."

Absolutely none of that will change with the United States sitting in the front row, Obama's rhetorical skills notwithstanding. On the contrary, joining this farce means accepting the discriminatory agenda and attending WEOG meetings with a sign reading "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed" hanging on the door.

The Council's one new device -- the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) -- was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all UN states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.

Ironically, in the name of "engagement" the United States will now repeatedly be drawn into confrontations that could have been avoided. With Canada leaving the council, the European Union spineless in the face of OIC opposition, and the international human rights system now opposed to "naming and shaming," the United States will have to rock the boat if it wants to avoid joining a corrupt consensus. This will mean voting against OIC-driven resolutions and proposing "controversial" condemnations of any state other than Israel.

President Obama has waded into quicksand, which will drown both U.S. efforts to protect human rights and his sought-after reputation as their champion.

April 3, 2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in National Review Online.

President Barack Obama has announced that the United States will seek a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council for the first time. The formal election of new members is in May, but the result is a foregone conclusion. The human-rights abusers who dominate the Council and use it to protect themselves, to eliminate universal standards, and to demonize their democratic foes are already celebrating.

This is a surrender of American values unlike any other. The spectacle of this particular president legitimizing a lethal weapon for the defeat of human rights will haunt him until the end of his term.

The Council was created in March 2006 after the U.N. Human Rights Commission became too much of an embarrassment even for the U.N. The General Assembly rejected a U.S. proposal requiring that states actually protect human rights as a condition of Council membership. As a result, the United States voted against the Assembly resolution that gave it birth.

The Bush administration also refused to use taxpayer dollars to pay for the Council. Obama's move will reverse this policy. It is, therefore, important to appreciate exactly what American tax dollars will now be purchasing. Here is a sample of what the Council has "accomplished" over its short history.

  • The Council has adopted a formal agenda of ten items that governs all its meetings. One agenda item is reserved for condemning Israel. This item is called the "human-rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories"; the human rights of Israelis are deliberately omitted. And one agenda item is assigned to the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. By taking a seat on the Council, the United States will be agreeing to this agenda and to the resulting apportionment of the Council's time.

  • Every morning throughout the Council sessions, all U.N. member states meet to strategize and share information in one of the U.N.'s five regional groups. All that is, except Israel. At the Council, Israel is denied membership in any regional group, including the amalgam of Western states to which the United States belongs. The United States is, therefore, about to attend a continuous stream of meetings through doors effectively marked "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed."

  • The Council has had ten regular sessions concerning human rights worldwide and five special sessions to condemn Israel.

  • The Council has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all the other 191 U.N. member states combined.

  • The Council has terminated human-rights investigations of such paragons as Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia.

  • The last time the Council took action on Sudan was seven months ago. The resolution on that country "acknowledges . . . the steps taken by the Government of the Sudan to strengthen the human-rights legal and institutional framework, principally in law reform." (The Sudanese criminal code prohibits homosexuality, makes adultery a capital offense, and provides for flogging, amputation, stoning, and crucifixion.)

  • The Council has just terminated every investigation of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms." Under this heading, it has discontinued investigations of the likes of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Even the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission had investigations under way every year since this process began in 1974.

  • The Council president has made a procedural ruling that any commentary connecting the practice of Islam to human-rights violations is out of order.

  • The Council has sabotaged the key resolution in the U.N. system on freedom of expression. The resolution now requires investigation of "abuses of the right of freedom of expression" . Most Council members do not permit freedom of expression, much less suffer from the abuse of it.

  • The Council regularly adopts resolutions on the "defamation of religions," an overt attempt by Islamic states to stymie free speech of individuals in the name of protecting "religion."

  • The Council has made repeated efforts to circumvent universal principles. It has spawned numerous entities charged with searching for "normative gaps" - with the intention of filling them with sharia exemption clauses.

  • The Council has created an investigator charged with reporting on respect for "cultural diversity" (read: the refusal to hold Islamic states to universal standards of human rights). Not surprisingly, this plan was spearheaded by some of the worst human-rights abusers on the planet: Iran, Syria, Cuba, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Belarus.

  • The Council's one new device - the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all U.N. states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.
It is true that some human-rights groups are willing to admit there is a problem with the Human Rights Council. But they still insist that Obama's decision to participate in this sham raises the prospect of change from the inside. They are mistaken.

Serious reform of the U.N. Human Rights Council is impossible. The United States failed to win over a majority of U.N. members to the idea of minimal preconditions for Council membership because the majority of U.N. members are not fully free democracies and have no interest in introducing democratic hurdles for anything they do. On the Council itself, the majority of seats are held by the African and Asian regional groups, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has a majority in both of these groups. That means the OIC holds the balance of power. The more time the Council spends demonizing Israel, the less likely it becomes that it will ever get around to condemning genocide in Sudan, female slavery in Saudi Arabia, or torture in Egypt.

President Obama's decision to bring the United States into the Council is a gift for his political adversaries. The Council and its many subsidiary bodies meet almost year round, and many of their proceedings are webcast. Every time the president makes a speech about human dignity, the welfare of minorities, the equality of women, or an end to torture, his critics can circulate another picture of the hapless American representative to the Council glued to his chair during the adoption of yet another decision trashing human rights - with the United States paying the bill.

Human-rights victims will rue the day that the United States legitimized this morally bankrupt institution. President Obama will, too.

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in National Review Online.

President Barack Obama has announced that the United States will seek a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council for the first time. The formal election of new members is in May, but the result is a foregone conclusion. The human-rights abusers who dominate the Council and use it to protect themselves, to eliminate universal standards, and to demonize their democratic foes are already celebrating.

This is a surrender of American values unlike any other. The spectacle of this particular president legitimizing a lethal weapon for the defeat of human rights will haunt him until the end of his term.

The Council was created in March 2006 after the U.N. Human Rights Commission became too much of an embarrassment even for the U.N. The General Assembly rejected a U.S. proposal requiring that states actually protect human rights as a condition of Council membership. As a result, the United States voted against the Assembly resolution that gave it birth.

The Bush administration also refused to use taxpayer dollars to pay for the Council. Obama's move will reverse this policy. It is, therefore, important to appreciate exactly what American tax dollars will now be purchasing. Here is a sample of what the Council has "accomplished" over its short history.

  • The Council has adopted a formal agenda of ten items that governs all its meetings. One agenda item is reserved for condemning Israel. This item is called the "human-rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories"; the human rights of Israelis are deliberately omitted. And one agenda item is assigned to the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. By taking a seat on the Council, the United States will be agreeing to this agenda and to the resulting apportionment of the Council's time.


  • Every morning throughout the Council sessions, all U.N. member states meet to strategize and share information in one of the U.N.'s five regional groups. All that is, except Israel. At the Council, Israel is denied membership in any regional group, including the amalgam of Western states to which the United States belongs. The United States is, therefore, about to attend a continuous stream of meetings through doors effectively marked "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed."


  • The Council has had ten regular sessions concerning human rights worldwide and five special sessions to condemn Israel.


  • The Council has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all the other 191 U.N. member states combined.


  • The Council has terminated human-rights investigations of such paragons as Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia.


  • The last time the Council took action on Sudan was seven months ago. The resolution on that country "acknowledges . . . the steps taken by the Government of the Sudan to strengthen the human-rights legal and institutional framework, principally in law reform." (The Sudanese criminal code prohibits homosexuality, makes adultery a capital offense, and provides for flogging, amputation, stoning, and crucifixion.)


  • The Council has just terminated every investigation of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms." Under this heading, it has discontinued investigations of the likes of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Even the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission had investigations under way every year since this process began in 1974.


  • The Council president has made a procedural ruling that any commentary connecting the practice of Islam to human-rights violations is out of order.


  • The Council has sabotaged the key resolution in the U.N. system on freedom of expression. The resolution now requires investigation of "abuses of the right of freedom of expression" . Most Council members do not permit freedom of expression, much less suffer from the abuse of it.


  • The Council regularly adopts resolutions on the "defamation of religions," an overt attempt by Islamic states to stymie free speech of individuals in the name of protecting "religion."


  • The Council has made repeated efforts to circumvent universal principles. It has spawned numerous entities charged with searching for "normative gaps" - with the intention of filling them with sharia exemption clauses.


  • The Council has created an investigator charged with reporting on respect for "cultural diversity" (read: the refusal to hold Islamic states to universal standards of human rights). Not surprisingly, this plan was spearheaded by some of the worst human-rights abusers on the planet: Iran, Syria, Cuba, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Belarus.


  • The Council's one new device - the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all U.N. states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.


  • It is true that some human-rights groups are willing to admit there is a problem with the Human Rights Council. But they still insist that Obama's decision to participate in this sham raises the prospect of change from the inside. They are mistaken.

    Serious reform of the U.N. Human Rights Council is impossible. The United States failed to win over a majority of U.N. members to the idea of minimal preconditions for Council membership because the majority of U.N. members are not fully free democracies and have no interest in introducing democratic hurdles for anything they do. On the Council itself, the majority of seats are held by the African and Asian regional groups, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has a majority in both of these groups. That means the OIC holds the balance of power. The more time the Council spends demonizing Israel, the less likely it becomes that it will ever get around to condemning genocide in Sudan, female slavery in Saudi Arabia, or torture in Egypt.

    President Obama's decision to bring the United States into the Council is a gift for his political adversaries. The Council and its many subsidiary bodies meet almost year round, and many of their proceedings are webcast. Every time the president makes a speech about human dignity, the welfare of minorities, the equality of women, or an end to torture, his critics can circulate another picture of the hapless American representative to the Council glued to his chair during the adoption of yet another decision trashing human rights - with the United States paying the bill.

    Human-rights victims will rue the day that the United States legitimized this morally bankrupt institution. President Obama will, too.

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The NY Daily News.

    President Obama's decision to join the UN Human Rights Council, as a gift to his foreign counterparts while on his first overseas trip, leaves one more shoe to drop. Will he decide the U.S. should attend the Council's brainchild - the Durban II "anti-racism" bash? European and all other G-20 states, but Canada, want the U.S. on the inside of the conference - for reasons that have nothing to do with America's best interests or combating racism. Given Durban II is less than three weeks away will Obama succumb to the pressure? Or will joining the Council, a permanent forum for Israel-bashing, suffice?

    White House delay tactics over attending/not attending Durban II have been constantly raising the stakes. Various advocacy groups have interpreted Obama's dithering to be a signal to weigh in against Jewish organizations and their call to stay out of Durban II. The scramble up the equal rights ladder by "human rights" groups, stomping on the less equal along the way, is now in full swing.

    Former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, makes the case plain Writing on March 17, she said: "I implore the members of the Congressional Black Caucus to spearhead the participation of the United States" in Durban II. Far from being worried about another global platform for anti-semitism, McKinney is just fine with "a discussion of Zionism in the context of such a conference."

    McKinney's call has been echoed in "Open Letters" sent to President Obama by entities that seem to have been created for petition purposes like "United Against Racism.net" - whose website sports a rally from Durban I and a sign reading "say no to apartheid in Palestine."

    The go-Obama campaign is also being run out of the UN itself. UN headquarters in New York hosted a March 26 event "in support of the Durban Review Conference." Ejim Dike of the "Urban Justice Center," a signatory to a March 27 "open letter," was invited to speak. Dike said her group was spurring the go-Obama campaign with NGOs Nord-Sud and the International Action Center. The action center representative told the UN meeting that Durban II should single out Israel, claiming "a conference against racism . . . must address" "the crime in Gaza." Nord-Sud distributed a petition inside the UN New York meeting room "urg[ing] the Obama administration to participate . . . without threats or preconditions and in a spirit of mutual respect . . . " alongside the claim that Israel is engaged in "apartheid practices against Palestinians."

    Raising the decibel level of these phony anti-racism campaigns is not the only consequence of Obama's fence-sitting on Durban II attendance. It also effectively abandoned the two European states that had courageously attempted to shift the European Union position away from the UN-Islamic-Durban II nexus. In the last two weeks, Italy and the Netherlands objected firmly to the direction of the conference. The Dutch boldly produced a whole new declaration that would have succeeded in bringing the United States and possibly Israel onboard. In the absence of support, however, the French and Germans - seeking to avoid any confrontation with Islamic countries - prevailed and successfully smothered the few signs of independent thinking from Europe.

    This is reminiscent of events at Durban I. After the U.S. and Israel walked out of the conference in 2001, the French became the powerbrokers and cut a deal with Islamic states. The Durban Declaration was allowed to contain minimal references to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism so long as it also tied Israel to racism. Detailed draft provisions on combating anti-Semitism, promoting the study of the Holocaust and taking action against Holocaust denial were removed in the debacle.

    Fast-forward to 2009. The Feb. 26 draft of the Durban II declaration included these words: "Affirms that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one- third of the Jewish people, along with numerous members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice; recalls again that the Holocaust must never be forgotten" and "Urges States to raise awareness and to implement United Nations General Assembly resolutions 60/7 and 61/255 which inter alia observed that remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide, condemned without reservation any denial of the Holocaust and urged all Member States to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event either in full or in part or any activities to this end."

    In the subsequent Durban II negotiations, Iran and Syria disputed the Holocaust facts and objected to this text. Then Belgium, Norway, Egypt and Russia sat down to wheel and deal. Lo and behold, the latest draft of the Durban II declaration, dated March 17, has been whittled down to: "Recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and in this context urges all UN members to implement GA resolutions 60/7 and 61/255." It is not coincidence that Belgium and Norway are currently both running for a seat on the Human Rights Council; Islamic states are sure to be impressed by their cooperation. No doubt Obama would also like to find a way to avoid offending on his way to taking a Council seat.

    Going into the final stretch, the primary stumbling block to U.S. participation in Durban II is the draft declaration's first proclamation: participating states "reaffirm" the first Durban declaration. The language appears anodyne, but the U.S. has always rejected Durban I on the grounds that it singles out Israel and wrongly declares Palestinians to be victims of Israeli racism. The Obama administration said in February that it would not agree to "reaffirm Durban I's declaration in toto."

    As of today, the Durban-friendly lawyers are busy searching for ways to reaffirm without appearing to reaffirm. The politicians are testing American "flexibility." As for President Obama, he has done much already to cement his reputation for seeking fair-weather friends at all costs. On the other hand, he may just feel his interest in the Human Rights Council buys enough accolades from scoundrels to be able to give Durban II a pass.

    This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The NY Daily News.

    President Obama's decision to join the UN Human Rights Council, as a gift to his foreign counterparts while on his first overseas trip, leaves one more shoe to drop. Will he decide the U.S. should attend the Council's brainchild - the Durban II "anti-racism" bash? European and all other G-20 states, but Canada, want the U.S. on the inside of the conference - for reasons that have nothing to do with America's best interests or combating racism. Given Durban II is less than three weeks away will Obama succumb to the pressure? Or will joining the Council, a permanent forum for Israel-bashing, suffice?

    White House delay tactics over attending/not attending Durban II have been constantly raising the stakes. Various advocacy groups have interpreted Obama's dithering to be a signal to weigh in against Jewish organizations and their call to stay out of Durban II. The scramble up the equal rights ladder by "human rights" groups, stomping on the less equal along the way, is now in full swing.

    Former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, makes the case plain Writing on March 17, she said: "I implore the members of the Congressional Black Caucus to spearhead the participation of the United States" in Durban II. Far from being worried about another global platform for anti-semitism, McKinney is just fine with "a discussion of Zionism in the context of such a conference."

    McKinney's call has been echoed in "Open Letters" sent to President Obama by entities that seem to have been created for petition purposes like "United Against Racism.net" - whose website sports a rally from Durban I and a sign reading "say no to apartheid in Palestine."

    The go-Obama campaign is also being run out of the UN itself. UN headquarters in New York hosted a March 26 event "in support of the Durban Review Conference." Ejim Dike of the "Urban Justice Center," a signatory to a March 27 "open letter," was invited to speak. Dike said her group was spurring the go-Obama campaign with NGOs Nord-Sud and the International Action Center. The action center representative told the UN meeting that Durban II should single out Israel, claiming "a conference against racism . . . must address" "the crime in Gaza." Nord-Sud distributed a petition inside the UN New York meeting room "urg[ing] the Obama administration to participate . . . without threats or preconditions and in a spirit of mutual respect . . . " alongside the claim that Israel is engaged in "apartheid practices against Palestinians."

    Raising the decibel level of these phony anti-racism campaigns is not the only consequence of Obama's fence-sitting on Durban II attendance. It also effectively abandoned the two European states that had courageously attempted to shift the European Union position away from the UN-Islamic-Durban II nexus. In the last two weeks, Italy and the Netherlands objected firmly to the direction of the conference. The Dutch boldly produced a whole new declaration that would have succeeded in bringing the United States and possibly Israel onboard. In the absence of support, however, the French and Germans - seeking to avoid any confrontation with Islamic countries - prevailed and successfully smothered the few signs of independent thinking from Europe.

    This is reminiscent of events at Durban I. After the U.S. and Israel walked out of the conference in 2001, the French became the powerbrokers and cut a deal with Islamic states. The Durban Declaration was allowed to contain minimal references to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism so long as it also tied Israel to racism. Detailed draft provisions on combating anti-Semitism, promoting the study of the Holocaust and taking action against Holocaust denial were removed in the debacle.

    Fast-forward to 2009. The Feb. 26 draft of the Durban II declaration included these words: "Affirms that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one- third of the Jewish people, along with numerous members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice; recalls again that the Holocaust must never be forgotten" and "Urges States to raise awareness and to implement United Nations General Assembly resolutions 60/7 and 61/255 which inter alia observed that remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide, condemned without reservation any denial of the Holocaust and urged all Member States to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event either in full or in part or any activities to this end."

    In the subsequent Durban II negotiations, Iran and Syria disputed the Holocaust facts and objected to this text. Then Belgium, Norway, Egypt and Russia sat down to wheel and deal. Lo and behold, the latest draft of the Durban II declaration, dated March 17, has been whittled down to: "Recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and in this context urges all UN members to implement GA resolutions 60/7 and 61/255." It is not coincidence that Belgium and Norway are currently both running for a seat on the Human Rights Council; Islamic states are sure to be impressed by their cooperation. No doubt Obama would also like to find a way to avoid offending on his way to taking a Council seat.

    Going into the final stretch, the primary stumbling block to U.S. participation in Durban II is the draft declaration's first proclamation: participating states "reaffirm" the first Durban declaration. The language appears anodyne, but the U.S. has always rejected Durban I on the grounds that it singles out Israel and wrongly declares Palestinians to be victims of Israeli racism. The Obama administration said in February that it would not agree to "reaffirm Durban I's declaration in toto."

    As of today, the Durban-friendly lawyers are busy searching for ways to reaffirm without appearing to reaffirm. The politicians are testing American "flexibility." As for President Obama, he has done much already to cement his reputation for seeking fair-weather friends at all costs. On the other hand, he may just feel his interest in the Human Rights Council buys enough accolades from scoundrels to be able to give Durban II a pass.

    March 31, 2009

    March 30, 2009