ICEJ NEWS - 08/31/2001
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the controversial Durban conference on racism on Friday, receiving his longest and loudest applause for remarks critical of Israel, an omen of the gathering's festering antisemitic agenda that threatens to quickly drive away Jewish attendees and anyone else with their moral compass still intact.
The UN parley has been plagued by pre-conference haggling over odious draft resolutions that would slander Israel and Zionism. Israel, the US and a number of other Western democratic nations downgraded their official delegations in recent days in protest of Arab/Islamic efforts to brand Zionism as "a movement based on racial superiority" and to indict Israel for "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity." The draft text even describes the Jewish State as a "barbaric and inhuman project."
Nonetheless, Annan put on a good face and opened the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance today in a speech praising South Africa for its transition from a state that "represented racism," to one that can "teach the world how to overcome racism." Early on, he briefly touched on a separate conference tempest over demands for reparations for African slavery, suggesting it was now too far back in time to properly trace the lines of accountability.
Annan also addressed the contentious debate raging around the proposals aimed at Israel and Jews. Annan said that the Jewish people had been the victims of racism, in particular "the ultimate abomination" of the Holocaust, which could not be compared to any other tragedy and must never be forgotten. This history made it difficult for Israel to accept the label of "racists" themselves, noted Annan.
However, he continued, Israel could not use the Holocaust as an excuse never to examine its own behavior, saying, "We cannot expect Palestinians to accept this as a reason why the wrongs done to them - displacement, occupation, blockage, and now extra-judicial killings - should be ignored, whatever label one uses to describe them."
The remarks drew thunderous applause from the audience, catching Annan somewhat off guard. He tried to quickly continue, but was drowned out by the crescendo. When he finally resumed his speech, Annan stated, "But mutual accusations are not the purpose of this conference. Let us admit that all countries face the issues of racism, which we need to address rather than pick on any one country or region."
The convergence of antisemitic elements on Durban has been a source of embarrassment to some UN officials. Beginning last week, thousands of militant Muslims have marched in Durban and Cape Town, chanting anti-Zionist slogans and holding signs saying "Viva Arafat."
As delegates arrived this week for the five days of NGO symposiums that started today, leaflets were flying everywhere depicting Jews with blood-soaked fangs and Nazi swastikas. Jewish delegates complained of intimidation and threats, and Jewish student leaders were banned from even speaking at pre-conference youth forums.
In one encounter in the exhibition hall, Jewish students confronted by Muslim protesters began singing: "All we are saying is give peace a chance." The Palestinian supporters responded by chanting, "We will redeem Palestine through blood and fire."
A press conference by Jewish NGOs yesterday had to be finally disbanded after constant disruption by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Dr. Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Palestinian and Muslim activists disrupted the press conference by shouting that Israelis are killers, and that Israel is an "SS racist state."
UN High Commissioner Mary Robinson, the key organizer of the conference, seemed taken aback at the brazen expressions of anti-Semitism at her precious gathering meant to address the lingering ills of racism. At an NGO dinner last night, the former President of Ireland waved one of the books of anti-Semitic cartoons being distributed by Arab/Muslim groups and dramatically declared, "I am a Jew."
"This conference is aimed at achieving human dignity," shouted Robinson. "[W]hen I see the racism in this cartoon booklet, of the Arab Lawyers' Union, I must say that I am a Jew... I will not accept this fractiousness to torpedo the conference."
"This is a conference about victims of racial discrimination," she concluded. "This conference cannot solve the Middle East problem."
Anticipating just such poison, most of the political heavyweights from Europe, North America or Asia stayed away from Durban. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was a notable exception, strolling into today's grand opening with the likes of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
Delegates from 166 countries are attending the world conference, but the US held back Secretary of State Colin Powell and waited until Wednesday to dispatch an undersecretary as head of a small delegation to try to purge the final communiquÃ© of "offensive language" to Israel and Jews. If their efforts seem doomed to failure, which is likely, the US delegation plans to leave early.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deliberated over the make-up of the Israeli delegation until just before the last flight out of Ben-Gurion airport to Durban last night. He eventually settled on a low-level delegation, holding back deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior against his wishes.
Melchior felt a higher-level delegation should have been sent, since there was still "a good chance" to remove the objectionable items in the resolutions. "We didn't want to legitimize all the garbage... that the Arab states proposed be on the table at Durban," he conceded to ISRAEL RADIO. Meanwhile on CNN, Melchior cautioned that "if human rights are not universal" in that they are denied to Jews, then they can be politically manipulated against others as well.
Israel remains the only country mentioned by name as a practitioner of racism and apartheid in the text of the draft resolutions. The Israeli delegation and Jewish NGOs who have braved the Durban gauntlet have reportedly decided to stage walkouts in any sessions where the Arab/Islamic bloc is allowed to ram-rod through their anti-Zionist and anti-Israel agenda. And by the time the official UN proceedings begin next week, the conference may be completely void of Jews - the most qualified people in the world to teach us all about the evils of racism.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.