EYEontheUN ALERT - March 1, 2009
The Obama Administration Double-Deals On Durban
Barack Obama just added double-dealing to his foreign policy repertoire. On Friday, administration officials led many Jewish leaders to believe that they had decided to boycott the United Nation's "anti-racism" conference known as Durban II. At the same time, however, human rights organizations were being led to believe that the administration was not pulling out and was looking for a way to "re-engage."
Durban II, scheduled for Geneva in April, is the U.N.'s attempt at a rerun of the 2001 global anti-Semitic hate fest held in Durban, South Africa.
After sowing confusion over the phone lines, the State Department chose late Friday night to put the real deal in print. Their release reads: "the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable," and "the United States will not ... participate in a conference based on this text," but we will "re-engage if a document that meets [our] criteria becomes the basis for deliberations." A new version must be: "shorter," "not reaffirm in toto
the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration," "not single out any one country or conflict," and "not embrace the troubling concept of "defamation of religion."
And by the way, it continued, the U.S. will "participate" for the first time in the U.N. Human Rights Council.
All of this leaves the American people not knowing whether they're coming or going.
It does open a window, however, into Obama's gerrymandering. On one phone line with Assistant Secretary of State Karen Stewart were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.N. Foundation, the UNA-USA Association and the Arab American Institute, among others. On the other line with National Security Council member Samantha Power were Jewish organizations. The dangerous message was that an Arab advocacy group does human rights, while Jewish organizations do Jews.
The Durban Declaration claims that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism; with Israel the only U.N. state charged with racism. The end game, as 2001 attendee Yasser Arafat made plain, is to analogize Israel to apartheid South Africa, pile on political isolation and sanctions and defeat Israel politically, if not militarily. The purpose of Durban II, as decided in August 2007 with the consent of the European Union, is to "foster the implementation of the Durban Declaration." In January of this year, the E.U. agreed to "reaffirm" the Durban Declaration "as it was adopted at the 2001 World Conference." Durban II cannot be salvaged; its very raison d'être includes demonizing Israel.
Some Europeans and Australia had been teetering on the edge of following Canada and Israel in boycotting the conference. But they were waiting for Obama to walk with them. Rather than encouraging these like-minded states, America's mixed message has sent human rights organizations and states scurrying. They are looking to inject some creative ambiguity into "not reaffirming in toto
"--or as Stewart put it, "not unequivocally reaffirming"--the Durban Declaration. Instead of leadership and clarity of convictions, the U.S. has started a race to the bottom of the diplomatic barrel.
The prospect irritated Human Rights Watch, the American U.N. Association and the U.N. Foundation, which all let Stewart know they would have preferred to cut Israel loose now as a fair cost of engagement. Peggy Hicks from HRW complained that insisting on "no reference to a single country or conflict is very problematic and destructive to the Durban Review process." Susan Myers of the U.N. Foundation worried that the move "boxed in the administration" and "undercut the ability of the U.S. to re-engage."
In fact, Obama's four deal-breakers do not include many other troubling provisions still on Durban II's negotiating table. These include: questioning the veracity of the Holocaust, a variety of attacks on freedom of expression in addition to "defamation of religion," and incendiary claims of "Islamophobia"--the general allegation of a racist Western plot to discriminate against all Muslims.
The administration's decision to slip in the Human Rights Council as a consolation prize for Durban enthusiasts is an attempt to downplay a major move. State Department officials intimated that they intend not only to observe but to run for a seat--subject to the "likelihood of successful elections." Council members and human rights gurus, like China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are sure to welcome the instant legitimacy provided by U.S. participation. The Council--controlled by the Organization of the Islamic Conference--has adopted more condemnations of Israel than all other 191 U.N. states combined, while terminating human rights investigations on the likes of Iran, Cuba and Belarus. Obama's move denies the opportunity to leverage the prospect of American membership to insist on reform.
Whether Obama actually stays away from Durban II is most likely to depend on his cost-benefit analysis of sacrificing Israel vs. heeding the siren's call to engage. My guess is he'll take the loss in the engagement column on Durban and the Israel column on the Council. Who said the human rights business had anything to do with human rights? This article first appeared in Forbes.