Durban Watch

Durban II

EYEontheUN ALERT - April 1, 2009

In Europe, Obama's burdened by Durban

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" - 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.