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Resources updated Thursday, May 06, 2021

May 6, 2021

A demonstration at the Durban Conference in 2001

The federal government says it will boycott events commemorating the 20th anniversary of a United Nations anti-racism conference in South Africa, citing the event's legacy of criticizing Israel.

A government spokesperson said Canada will join the U.S. and Australia, which have announced already that they won't be attending any of the commemorations scheduled for September.

"Canada remains committed, at home and abroad, including at the UN, to advancing human rights, inclusion and combatting antisemitism, islamophobia and systemic racism in all its forms. Canada opposes initiatives at the United Nations and in other multilateral forums that unfairly single out and target Israel for criticism," said the spokesperson.

"Canada is concerned that the Durban Process has and continues to be used to push for anti-Israel sentiment and as a forum for antisemitism. That is why we do not plan to attend or participate in events surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action."

The 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, also known as Durban I after the South African city in which it was held, was disrupted by walkouts staged by national delegations offended by anti-Israel sentiments.

Canada sent a delegation but then-foreign minister John Manley stayed behind and voiced concerns about the draft communique and a push by some countries to argue that Israel was founded on racist principles.

In the end, Canada issued a statement of reservation on its final declaration, which included a statement of concern for the "plight of Palestinian people under foreign occupation." The document stopped short of directly condemning Israel.

The Conservative government subsequently boycotted similar events in 2009 and 2011; then-immigration minister Jason Kenney called the conferences a "hatefest."

Earlier this year, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Canada signed an American statement which cited the Durban anniversary and called on countries to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. That led to speculation that the Liberal government would attend events in the fall.

B'nai Brith Canada and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) issued a statement urging Canada to boycott the event again.

"This process has received longstanding support from antisemites who have hijacked the conference agenda to advance their venomous attitudes towards Israel and Jews," they wrote in a media statement.

"At a time of continuously rising antisemitism worldwide, Canada must continue its longstanding policy of boycotting Durban and rejecting all efforts to glorify or honour the outrageous events of Durban I."

Canada boycotting events marking UN anti-racism conference over concerns about anti-Israel statements Article

A demonstration at the Durban Conference in 2001

Australia will not participate in the 20th anniversary events for the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, in which Israel was singled out for opprobrium, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

"We will not associate Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel or [with] an event that champions such language," Morrison said at an event of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne. "This is entirely consistent with my government's very strong voting position on UN General Assembly resolutions, in the Human Rights Council and elsewhere. We will continue that same approach to Durban IV later this year."

In October 2020, Australia's representative told the UN Human Rights Council that Canberra "does not support the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. It represents a missed opportunity. Instead of achieving a consensus document, which could be embraced by all states – the kind of consensus document befitting such an important cause as fighting racism – the World Conference Against Racism, and the subsequent Durban Review Conference, were misused by a handful of states to serve an anti-Israel agenda. The Durban Declaration is tainted by this unconscionable bias.

"Racism is a problem throughout the world and yet Israel is the only country mentioned in the Program of Action," Australia's statement read. "Singling out Israel in this way is not helpful, and does nothing to achieve the Durban Declaration's goals. Countries with serious cases to answer are able to avoid accountability and reform for as long as Israel is solely targeted."

The 2001 World Conference against Racism, also known as Durban I after the South African city where it took place, was a hotbed of antisemitic and anti-Israel messages, and is thought to be start of anti-Israel activists using the accusation of apartheid against the Jewish state.

An early draft of the resolution adopted at the Governmental Conference at Durban equated Zionism with racism, leading the US and Israel to withdraw from the conference. The final draft did not condemn Zionism as racist, but the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the only one listed specifically under the section on "victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."

The NGO Forum at Durban approved a resolution calling Israel a "racist apartheid state" and accusing it of genocide. Antisemitic materials, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were distributed at the event. Durban Conference secretary-general Mary Robinson refused to accept the document because of the language, saying "there was horrible antisemitism present."

The Zionist Federation of Australia welcomed the decision to boycott Durban IV.

ZFA president Jeremy Leibler said, the decision "continues [Morrison's] government's principled position of refusing to cooperate with the UN's anti-Israel resolutions and activities... Racism must be fought, and international events to highlight racism are important. But the Durban process was infected by antisemitism, which undermined its raison d'ętre."

Australia is the second country to announce it has officially withdrawn from Durban IV, after a US State Department spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week that it would not take part in the event scheduled for September 22 in New York.

"The United States will not attend or participate in any events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action or the World Conference on Racism, which preceded it," the State Department spokesperson stated on Monday. "The United States stands with Israel and has always shared its concerns over the Durban process's anti-Israel sentiment, use as a forum for antisemitism and freedom of expression issues."

France is expected to pull out from the conference, as well, a diplomatic source said, but has not put out an official statement yet. Several other countries that boycotted the previous two Durban review conferences, including Canada, have yet to respond to queries from the Post on the matter.

Responding to a Parliamentary Question from Baroness Deech last Month, UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth and UN Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon noted "the antisemitic actions and speeches in and around" Durban III, and said the UK is will consider its attendance at Durban IV in light of developments between now and September, to gauge how likely the conference is to host antisemitism again.

The German Embassy in Israel said that a decision will be announced closer to the conference. Germany did not attend past conferences.

The US did not participate in the Durban II and III follow-up conferences in 2009 and 2011, respectively, because, as then-US president Barack Obama explained in 2009, the original conference "became a session through which folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive." Israel, Canada, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland also boycotted the conference. In 2011, for Durban III, the number of countries boycotting rose to 14.

Australia won't go to anti-Israel Durban Conference, prime minister says Article

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"...I thought there was something I should put to rest. Not that it should come as a surprise from me and my Government, but in 2009 and 2011, we did not attend the Durban Declaration meetings. We will not be attending them going forward. Our position is unchanged, a position that successive Coalition and Labor governments have reinforced since 2001. We will not associate Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel or an event that champions such language. This is entirely consistent with my Government's very strong voting position on UN General Assembly resolutions in the Human Rights Council and elsewhere. We will continue that same approach to Durban for later this year. As I said at the Sydney Institute in December 2018, I do not accept that anti-Semitism, cloaked in the language of human rights, serves any justified purpose nor the cause of peace. Just in case anyone was in any doubt..."

Statement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce Article