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Durban Review Debate: Jews on Ahmadinejad

Let me say up front that I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad, while no Hitler, is an opportunistic demagogue (who undoubtedly loves the Netanyahu-inspired tendency to over-inflate his importance). Nor is it wise to deny that many countries deliberately single out Israel while ignoring their own terrible human rights records.

Acknowledging these facts in no way lessens Israel’s responsibility for stopping its oppression of Palestinians.  And it doesn’t disappear Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who comically condemned the UN conference for giving a platform to his Iranian twin. (For more of my thoughts, you can see my op-ed printed today here, or hear me on Beyond the Pale or Between the Lines.)

I was there at the time and found myself rolling my eyes when Ahmadinejad employed classic anti-Semitic canards to lecture the UN on human rights, love and justice. Diana Ralph of Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices, who was at the conference, was more impressed. She has written a spirited defense of Ahmadinejad:

In the polarized context of opposing narratives, it is risky to appear to defend the “bad guy.” Everyone “knows” Ahmadinejad equals bad, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier. So why defend his speech? I don’t endorse his values and I regret that, in his speech, he did not acknowledge injustice, anti-Semitism, and racism in Iran.  However, it is NOT true that this particular speech was an anti-Semitic diatribe that denied the Holocaust.

I heard what Ahmadinejad actually said (which dropped language describing the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious” from an earlier draft— the one quoted by most mainstream and Jewish press).  You can hear his actual speech by going to http://www.un.org/webcast/durbanreview/archive.asp?go=090420 and scrolling down to 15:00.  …
In his speech, I heard much with which I agreed.  For example, he objected to the UN Security Council’s veto rights over the democratic wishes of the world, particularly in supporting Israeli war crimes and violations of international law. He labelled the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq as exercises in imperial conquest, causing massive suffering, expanding the narcotics trade, and benefiting arms dealers. ….Finally he urged our collective effort to “make the world a better place full of love, fraternity, and blessings; a world devoid of poverty and hatred.”

Oxford University’s Brian Klug of Independent Jewish Voices in the UK had something entirely different to say, much more in line with my own response:

Someone might object that, unlike the Protocols [of Zion], Ahmadinejad confines his attack to Zionists and does not brand Jews collectively. But no other political movement in the world is credited with the kind of fantastical power and influence that he attributes to Zionism. Moreover, Zionism is a Jewish movement; and what he attributes to it is precisely the kind of power and influence that antisemitism attributes to Jews. It’s a bit of a giveaway. As is his embrace of Holocaust denial: no one denies (or plays down) the Nazi genocide against the Jews except for dyed-in-the-wool antisemites and certifiable lunatics. Whatever else he might be, Ahmadinejad is not insane.

I have written extensively about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and the danger of conflating them. But the one can turn into the other. And if it is wrong to make false accusations of antisemitism, it is equally wrong to turn a blind eye when it stares us in the face.

We should not be deceived by the fact that following an intervention by Ban Ki-moon, Ahmadinejad left out one or two of the most inflammatory passages that appear in the transcript … A last-minute response to diplomatic pressure from the UN secretary general does not constitute a change of heart.

Mitchell Plitnick of B’Tselem, and formerly of Jewish Voice for Peace, adds in response to Ralph’s piece:

[Ahmadinejad] said the “Zionists” essentially ordered the US invasion of Iraq (specific quote: “Was not the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then US administration in complicity with the arms manufacturing countries and the possessors of wealth?”)

And what about this modern version of the Protocols? “They [the Zionists] mobilize all the resources including their economic and political influence and world media to render support in vain to the Zionist regime and to maliciously diminish the indignity and disgrace of this regime.”

There are other, more subtle pieces to this, but come on, how can anyone who is even remotely familiar with the mechanics of anti-Semitism not see it in his speech? Is David Duke also only anti-Israel because he says Zionists and not Jews?

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Durban Review Conference, Racism, And the Clash of Civilizations

If Durban I was a watershed moment for the Palestinian justice movement, bringing together for the first time thousands of activists from around the world (yes, including a handful of anti-Semites), all united in shining a light on Israel’s growing litany of human rights violations, it’s no wonder the right-wing Israel Lobby reacted with total panic regarding the Durban Review Conference. (One person in Geneva was overhead saying, “We reacted with a fire hose when all we needed was a lawn sprinkler.”)

They succeeded in getting the United States and European countries-all part of the colonial project and in the case of the US, the world’s only remaining empire- to reject any attempts to shine a light on Israeli institutional racism. Hmm.

As European Jews for a just Peace chair Dror Feiler asks, “Is it really such a scandal to describe Israel as a racist country?”

Because, what else can we call a nation whose policies make crucial differences between people, based on religion and ethnicity? What should we call a state under whose laws everyone is not equal? What should we call the practice of granting exclusive land-purchasing {Editor’s correction: it’s land-leasing} rights to Jewish citizens (approximately 90 percent of the country’s land is not available for purchase {lease} to the country’s non-Jewish citizens, solely because they are not Jewish? What should we call laws that allow Jewish citizens to marry foreign nationals and live together in Israel while that same thing is forbidden for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, solely based on their ethnicity?

Sid Shniad, co-chair of Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices, has a great write-up of the conference. Of particular interest- he gives a rundown of Israeli Michel Warschawski’s analysis of what happened in the context of colonial politics. It’s absolutely true that the right wing Israel groups in the US have long pushed a Clash of Civilizations framework, which suggests Jews/Christians and Muslims are essential enemies. (And which the vital partnerships of Muslims and Jews in the peace movement shows to be completely absurd.) Of course, the heightened Nazification of Muslims/Arabs, adds on a whole new, disturbing layer. Demonization of a group is a linguistic precursor to annihilation. It makes bombing Iranians, for example, OK.

Michel Warschawski of the Alternate Information Center in Israel provided a particularly powerful analysis of the significance of the original Durban conference and the events that have transpired since. According to Warschawski, the Durban conference marked a major success in the struggle against colonialism – so successful that it became a catalyst for an alliance of Zionist and neoconservative elements determined to mount a global counter-offensive and roll back the progress that the forces opposed to colonialism made there.

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The “Jewish Conspiracy” behind the Durban Review Conference

Michael Jordan of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has an interesting piece today about the hesitance of the UN High Commissioner’s Office to actually name the groups behind the campaign to marginalize the Durban Review Conference. Jordan writes:

It’s no secret who was behind the effort to discredit the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva.

For nearly a year before the anti-racism confab, Jewish and pro-Israel groups lobbied hard to get Western countries to boycott the gathering, which they said was certain to treat Israel unfairly, just as the first Durban conference had done in 2001.

But why, when pressed, do UN officials give such vague answers?

This time, however, the Jews actually did conspire, albeit openly, to sabotage the conference.

…But for the most part, Durban II’s organizers and participants did not want to point the finger at the Jews for the anti-Durban effort for fear of being labeled anti-Semites.

“I can’t tell you exactly who the lobby is,” Pillay said in a March 12 interview with Australia’s ABC.net. “I can just pick out that it seems to be one source putting out this wrong information and labeling this review conference as ‘hate fest.’ ”

In an earlier piece, Jordan reports a story that illustrates exactly the impossible dynamic faced by the UN office, and how, like a powerless female character in a film who threatens to yell ‘rape’ if someone gets too close, some Jewish groups are only too happy to cry ‘anti-Semite’ if you get too close. In some ways, its the nuclear option for powerless people. (Worse, as I have amply documented, these Jewish/Israel lobby groups sponsored a range of sessions demonizing and attacking the UN, Arabs, Muslims, Iran and Palestinians, all with Orwellian titles about fighting bigotry and anti-Semitism.)

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