by Anne Bayefsky
The United Nations is planning to hold “Durban III” in New York City in September 2011, marking the tenth anniversary of the 2001 Durban conference, and the non-governmental forum which preceded it, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Durban I produced the infamous Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), which charges Israel with racism but names no other state in the world. Durban II, held in Geneva in April 2009, was headlined by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who saw the occasion as ideal for issuing another denial of the Holocaust and an endorsement of genocide against the Jewish state. Timing Durban III for the annual opening of the General Assembly is meant to guarantee the extensive involvement of presidents and prime ministers, most of whom eluded organizers of Durban I and II.
The U.N. will now be marking the 10th anniversary of Durban I at the same time and place as the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. Durban I, the platform for violent, pro-terrorist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric that included such speakers as Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, ended just three days before 9/11.
The intergovernmental working group charged with preparing next year’s commemoration session just wrapped up its first planning meeting in Geneva. It adopted a series of “conclusions and recommendations” and indicated that Durban III is intended to “reaffirm that the DDPA provides the most comprehensive UN framework for combating racism.” The U.N. General Assembly is now occupied with the delicate matter of finalizing “the modalities” of Durban III, and New York-based diplomats are hard at work negotiating the details.The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I in disgust, while Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States boycotted Durban II. Even though these states were not represented, U.N. officials have continued to claim that the Durban Declaration was achieved by consensus, despite the fact that consensus clearly eluded both the Durban Declaration and the final product of the Durban Review Conference, which reaffirmed the Declaration. But at last October’s Geneva planning session, the European Union walked backwards. It agreed as a whole to recommend to the General Assembly that Durban III produce an “outcome,” knowing full well that the pressure will now be on to manufacture a new statement of unanimous support for the Declaration and the effort to further demonize and isolate Israel.
The Libyan representative in Geneva let slip a few more details about the intentions behind the 10th anniversary event, including drawing attention to the alleged “escalation of Islamophobia,” citing such affronts as the Danish cartoons and threats to burn books in Florida.
Though the Obama administration did not send a formal representative to the Geneva planning meeting, the administration’s ideological embrace of the U.N. has fueled speculation that the U.N. process of attrition may also affect U.S. attitudes towards Durban III. The Bush administration, represented by Congressman Tom Lantos, not only left Durban I – it consistently voted against the twelve General Assembly and Human Rights Commission resolutions dedicated to Durban follow-up that it confronted over the years. When Durban II was in the planning stages, the Bush administration refused to participate.
By contrast, the Obama administration sent a delegation to Geneva to figure out how to get into the Durban II act, and didn’t pull the plug on U.S. participation until a mere 48 hours before the conference, when the administration realized they couldn’t sell support. American fence-sitting was the key stumbling block in efforts to build a large coalition of democracies prepared to boycott Durban II, a dangerous tool for tolerating the intolerant. And last June at the Human Rights Council, the United States decided for the first time not to cast a vote against the Durban follow-up resolution, even though the resolution promoted two celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the original conference: in June 2011 at the Council and in September 2011 at the General Assembly. The resolution also urged widespread participation by civil society in the festivities.
The role of “civil” society in Durban I is best remembered for producing out-of-control NGO mobs. These gangs broke into the one NGO session on combating anti-Semitism, forcing it to end. After threats of violence, they necessitated the closure of the Durban Jewish Community Center, which had been the meeting place for Jewish NGOs attending the conference. They disrupted a press conference of Jewish NGOs who were seeking to raise alarm bells. They required Jewish representatives from all over the world to flee the final session with a police escort because their safety couldn’t be guaranteed if they remained. In the end, the alleged “anti-racism” NGO community deleted from their declaration multiple references to combating anti-Semitism and added that the self-determination of the Jewish people, or Zionism, was a form of racism.
The conclusions of October’s intergovernmental working group appear to be setting the stage for another NGO debacle. They read: “The Working Group…invites…NGOs to participate fully in the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the DDPA [and] invites…civil society…to organize various initiatives to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the DDPA with high visibility…”
In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.