At the U.N. in New York, diplomats have been putting the finishing touches on a new “anti-racism” declaration set to be adopted by over a hundred world leaders at the annual opening of the General Assembly. The declaration will be the culmination of the one-day summit on September 22, known as “Durban III,” after the original 2001 racist “anti-racism” debacle held in Durban, South Africa. To date, nine states, including the U.S., Israel and Canada, have decided to boycott Durban III, and with two weeks to go, the question is whether more democratic states will follow their lead in light of the dangerous manifesto now before them.
On September 22, the U.N. General Assembly will feature speeches from the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay – a major supporter of Durban III – and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is poised to deliver his usual anti-Semitic tirade under the General Assembly’s banner. Along with these speeches, get ready for a major assault on human rights: The Durban Declaration charges Israel – and only Israel, among 192 U.N. nations – with racism. The declaration is a reincarnation of the “Zionism is racism” libel, and it is about to be catapulted to new heights if Pillay, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and willing collaborators in the developing world’s G-77 get their way.
Negotiators are planning to finalize the declaration, intended to be rubber-stamped by world leaders later this month, as early as today. This will leave each government with a stark choice: join Islamic states and their partners in perpetrating this “anti-racist” swindle or join the boycott. Durban enthusiasts are hoping to make that choice as difficult as possible by masking the agenda with a human rights veneer.
For instance, the new declaration is called “United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Except that, given how racism has been defined, the General Assembly is not united on the subject. It expresses much heartfelt concern for the “victims of racism” – except those words are the product of intense lobbying by Islamic states because the Durban Declaration says Palestinians are “victims” of Israeli racism. There is a harmless looking reference to “intolerance including its new forms and manifestations.” It was inserted because of the OIC/G-77 demanded the declaration cover Islamophobia and defamation of religion. As Egypt’s representative to the Human Rights Council back in March, “the denigration of religions is wrongly justified on the ground of the right to freedom of expression.”
The U.N. gamesmanship at work here is a form of art. Russia has been suggesting language for the new declaration that would denigrate free speech and place restrictions on the media. The OIC states, keen on denigrating Israel above all, have stepped in to propose a “middle ground” that purports to “give up” anti-free speech provisions in exchange for including cloaked Israel-bashing provisions. Belgium, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland are seemingly anxious to sign on. And the French are delighted that the U.N.-speak has become convoluted enough for them to sign, too. And all the negotiators are careful simply to refer to the Israel-problem as the “sensitive” issue.
Try as they might, however, the sensitivity isn’t going away. The very mandate of Durban III, set out by a 2010 General Assembly resolution, is to “commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration…on the theme of victims of racism.” And the new declaration that will be adopted is “aimed at mobilizing political will… for the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration…” A commemoration of a global anti-Semitic outburst.
Most “sensitive” is whether Durban III will “reaffirm” the Durban Declaration and its anti-Israel mantra. Reaffirming the Durban Declaration is supposed to be a redline for France and New Zealand. So Mexico suggested to enthusiastic negotiators on Tuesday the following concoction: “Recall that the aim of this commemoration is to mobilize political will…for the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration…and reaffirm our commitment in this regard.”
Get the difference? France will now justify its participation in Durban III by claiming that the Durban Declaration is only “recalled” and not “reaffirmed.” Except the commitment that has been reaffirmed is to the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration. And France quickly reassured the OIC/G-77 that the language satisfies their need to reaffirm the Declaration. Ireland called the solution “elegant” – which is one way of describing diplomatic deception.
The irony is that only 104 U.N. members voted in favor of holding Durban III in the first place. Democratic states voted against or abstained in large numbers. And now their heads of state are being asked to reaffirm something they didn’t affirm in the first place.
As might have been expected, Israel is not the only loser. For the first time, the new declaration will project the stature of the Durban Declaration as higher than the 1965 core treaty on racial discrimination. The new declaration claims the Durban Declaration is a “comprehensive UN framework...for combating racism.” Removed from the draft text at the behest of the OIC and G-77 was a “call” for universal ratification of the racism treaty – previously standard fare in U.N. resolutions. (Paragons like Angola, Malaysia, North Korea, and Burma/Myanmar aren’t parties to the treaty.) Even the outcome document from the Durban II conference, held in Geneva in April 2009, called the racism treaty “the principal international instrument to prevent, combat and eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” No longer.
Not surprisingly, the diplomats have failed to figure out how to combat racism seriously and to whitewash anti-Semitism. It’s time for the countries that refused to endorse the convening of Durban III only eight months ago, and have not left already, to do so immediately—Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom…
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a professor at Touro College, and the editor of EYEontheUN.org.