I’m writing this post from Geneva and already the surreal circus has begun. The controversy over Israel threatens to once again completely overshadow the massive, important work done by NGOs to combat racism and discrimination. First, the US just announced it is boycotting Durban II. As Mondoweiss says:
The conference is a follow up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The US walked out of that conference due to criticism of Israel and Zionism (and pressure over reparations for slavery also allegedly played a role). The State Department has said the US is boycotting the review conference for the same reasons. There was a concerted effort by Israel and the Israel lobby here in the US to pressure the US to boycott and they are wasting no time in celebrating the victory.
And no wonder, the final Durban I document was 61 solid pages of ranting against Israel, invective-filled hate, epithets, vile denunciations, plans for Muslim world domination ….Oh wait, oops, I was reading a right-wing press release!
Actually, out of 61 solid pages on racism and discrimination, these are the 6 relevant paragraphs that refer in some way to Israel and Jews (updated):
58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten;Â
61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and IslamophobiaÂ in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based onÂ racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities;Â
63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;
64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which allÂ peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights,Â and security;Â
151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respectÂ for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;
151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swiftÂ resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respectÂ for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and theÂ Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;Â
Moshe Yaroni makes the point that justifying the US boycott on Durban II’s endorsement of these words is absurd. (The atmosphere of Durban I, he stresses, is a different question.) On the other hand, a conference where Iran’s Ahmadinejad, yes, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak on Holocaust Remembrance DayÂ “bodes very ill.” No kidding. (Apparently unaware of their own shameful human rights record, in keeping with Ahmadinejadâ€™s provocations, a government-sanctioned Iranian group tried to hand out vile anti-Israel propaganda today. Organizers of the NGO parallel forum turned them away.)
Further, as Reuters has reported about this week’s conference,
A draft declaration prepared for the conference removed all references to Israel, the Middle East conflict and a call to bar “defamation of religion” –
In other words, while unable apparently to say no to a visiting head of state, UN conference organizers have almost desperately worked to rid this conference of any hints of Durban I, or the topic of Israeli human rights violations at all. Meanwhile, the document does mention various groups like Roma and youth of African descent.
Censorship and preferential treatment for right-wing pro-Israel groups
But the UN did not stop there.
…on Apr. 3, less than three weeks before the Durban Review Conference, the UN High Commissioner’s office called BADIL’s representative in Geneva into a meeting at the UN, and verbally informed her that all side-events pertaining to the specific issue of Palestine and Israel had been banned.
Yesterday I spoke with Maysa Zorob of the (fantastic and very politic) Palestinian legal rights group, Al-Haq, and she told me they too tried for weeks to hold a side-event session at the UN, as is custom for these conferences. “We were told they would not allow any sessions on specific regions.” Really?
So guess what delegates can go see during the conference on UN grounds. Not Badil, not Al Haq, not any Palestinian human rights group nor, presumably, the UN Relief and Works Agency that keeps some 80% of Gazans alive with aid thanks to Israel’s blockade of food and supplies.
Instead, delegates are welcome to attend a variety of sessions on the right-wing, pro-occupation Jewish narrative and history of victimization. Clearly, the story of anti-Semitism can and must be told at a global anti-racism conference. But so too must the Palestinian story. And also the story of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred. In this case, one wonders if they have been wiped clean.
The Israel Project tells reporters they can see some of these side-events, all on UN property: (For my past experience at the World Social Forum and the Simon Wiesenthal’s Shimon Samuels’ unethical behavior, read Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?)
Date: Tuesday 21 April 2009
International humanist and Ethical Union Association for World Education- Simon Wiesenthal center-cordially invite Representatives of Member States of the United Nations, UN bodies, Specialized Agencies, Intergovernmental Organizations and NGOs
Time: 1:00 p.m to 3:00Â pmÂ / 13h Ã 15h
Where: Palais des Nations: Gate 40 – Room XXVII, Organizer Shimon Samuels
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Lessons of the Holocaust for Antisemitism and Intolerance in the 21st Century
Time: 1:00 – 3:00Â p.m / 13h- 15h
Where: Palais des Nations, Room/ Salle IX
Date: Wednesday, April 22
Press Conference with Prof. Alan Dershowitz
Time: 11Â a.m / 11h
Where: Library ACANU Office in the UN Compound
I’ve been reading a lot about the Warsaw Ghetto lately, the miserable place where my great grandmother died a death so horrible, I’ve only ever told a handful of people out loud. I am haunted by letters she wrote from inside the Ghetto, and photos of my family smiling on the street months before the beginning of the end.
That’s why tomorrow, I’ll sadly look forward to the Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration in front of the UN, organized by a coalition of Geneva Jewish communities and featuring Elie Wiesel, Bernard Henry Levy, and Irwin Cotler.
Of course, it will be held on the Place de Nations, a plaza best-known for the sculpture of an enormous wooden chair with one leg blown off, a memorial to the victims of landmines. As groups like Human Rights Watch charge Israel with war crimes for their indiscriminate use of phosphorous to burn Gazans alive, it remains to be seen whether or not Wiesel, BHL et al will comment on the obvious irony.
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