Has the West lost the plot by boycotting the UN Racism Conference?

21 Apr

When I first read about the boycott of the UN Racism Conference in Durban from major Western countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, and the United States, the first thought that came to me was, ‘why?’.

In the 2001 Durban conference, US and Israeli representatives walked out of the event after the latter’s policy towards Palestinians was accused of being ‘racist’. To prevent having to witness a similar bashing of Israel, the West has simply decided to boycott this event.

The hypocrisy of the West is alarming, if not, an understatement, especially with regards to this episode. According to a blog post by Muzzlewatch, ‘Huh? Obama condemns Durban I Statement’, only 6 articles out of the 61 page 2001 Durban Document references Israel.

The articles are reproduced as below for the reader to make their own judgements on whether they are clearly anti-semitic, pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel:

58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten;

61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities;

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 all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security;

150. Calls upon States, in opposing all forms of racism, to recognize the need to counter anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism and Islamophobia world-wide, and urges all States to take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas concerning these communities;

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, respect 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;

While article 63 mentioned the occupation of Palestine, it also recognises the right of Israel to exist as a state. Article 61 and 150 also calls for the opposition to different forms of racism including anti-semitism. Any sane and balanced reading of the selected articles will show that the document can hardly be considered Israel-bashing.

This comment was validated by the Conference official site itself,’

… Contrary to widespread misperception, the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) stressed that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, condemned all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and stressed Israel’s right to security. See paragraphs 58, 61, 63, and 64 of the Durban Declaration and paragraphs 150 and 151 of the Programme of Action…’

Why is the West (and I use the term loosely given not everyone in the West feels the same) therefore abandoning a UN conference on an important global issue?

If the fear is that the conference be used against Israel bashing which has been constantly reiterated by the mass media, Human Rights Watch has subsequently set the story straight by issuing a press release, arguing that the draft document, ‘fully incorporates the legitimate concerns of EU and other Western governments‘. The draft declaration omitted Israel, the Middle East and ‘rejects the dangerous concept that religions, as opposed to individuals, could be defamed or have their rights violated. It also reaffirms the singular tragedy of the Holocaust and condemns anti-Semitism’. You can access the document from the official site and find out for yourself whether this is true.

Sinisterly, Muzzlewatch who was there to report on the conference was quick to point out that while Israel had boycotted the conference, pro- Israeli NGOs were present to demonstrate against the UN event. In ‘propaganda campaign uses young people for anti-UN photo op’, Cecilie Surasky noted that young protestors who were protesting against the conference appeared to have no idea what their objections were. She also reported that talks with ‘racial justice activists from the United States (more later) who talk about how the anti-Semitism charge against Durban makes it almost impossible for them to even talk about their work on it’. Cecilie also reported that ‘Israeli-government-narrative-only events [are] being held in UN buildings, while Palestinian NGOs have been banned from holding side-events. (The transparent excuse is that the side-events can not be region specific, only issue specific. The real story is the UN simply folded to pressure.)’

And then, there is the big controversy on President Ahmadinejad. While his  comments and violation of rights for gays or the Bhai faith in Iran are deplorable, his critique against Zionism is like the elephant in a room which few government leaders dare to mention. A summarised and excerpt version of his speech is reproduced as below:

… over the last centuries, humanity had gone through tremendous sufferings and pains.  Had lessons been learned from these oppressions, horrors and the crimes of the two World Wars, there would have been a ray of hope for the future.  The victorious powers called themselves the conquerors of the world, while ignoring or down-treading the rights of other nations by the imposition of oppressive laws and arrangements.  Following World War Two, many proponents of racism resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question of the holocaust.  They helped to bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists in Palestine.  It was all the more regrettable that a number of Western Governments and the United States had committed themselves to defend these racist perpetrators of genocide, while the awakened conscience and free-minded people of the world condemned the Zionist crimes of aggression, carnage and other brutalities of bombardments of civilians in Gaza… …

… What were the root causes of United States attacks against Iraq or the invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Ahmadinejad asked.  For a long time, inequitable economic regulations had been imposed by political powers on the international economy, with a financial and a monetary system imposed without proper international oversight mechanisms.  Racism was rooted in lack of knowledge concerning the truth of human existence as the selected creature of God.  Racism was the symbol of ignorance which had deep roots in history, and was indeed a sign of frustration in developments of human society.

… Today the human community was facing a kind of racism which had tarnished the image of humanity.  World Zionism personified racism that falsely resorted to religion and abused religious sentiments to hide hatred and ugly faces.  Boycotting such a session as this was a true indication of supporting the blatant example of racism…’

It is clear from his speech that he was also addressing the inequalities of the world with racism (and not just wholesale bashing of Israel). Maybe the West is reluctant to acknowledge the probable racist elements in its economic dominance of the South?

It is clear the West has lost the plot in boycotting the conference. They could have had the opportunity to rebut against some of the allegations made by perhaps Ahmadinejad and therefore show that it is ready to fight with ideas, but not invade Iraq or Afghanistan under the pretext of combating terrorism.

The West could have had a part in being part of a historic process in drafting an important international document against racism this time around. By abandoning the Durban, it is clear they are not only not ready to face any possible allegations against its own domestic racist policies, but also its unequivocal support for Israel.

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3 Responses to “Has the West lost the plot by boycotting the UN Racism Conference?”

  1. Ken Lovell April 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    The USA has long since lost the capacity to deal with other nations on a basis of mutual respect and humble openness. Belief in American exceptionalism has become so embedded in US attitudes that its representatives automatically think of themselves as leaders of the free world and treat others as either client states or enemies. Many Americans therefore feel incapable of sitting quietly while they are being criticised and then engaging in debate as if the critics’ opinions were worthy of rebuttal; when George W Bush trumpeted his line that if you weren’t with the USA you were against it, he was only articulating a widespread attitude. The US has trashed or boycotted a whole series of international agreements in recent years on the grounds that if it can’t dictate the rules and the way they’re applied it’s not interested in playing.

    Why Rudd decided to go along with a boycott is a mystery. It just reinforces the perception that the USA and its closest allies are only interested in globalisation if they can rig the outcomes in advance to suit their own interests.

  2. owlminerva April 22, 2009 at 6:36 am #

    i love your response. I agree, such documents (which are basically public relations tools) are all we have to try to get countries to behave. This conference was a missed opportunity that we can’t afford.

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