Member states of the U.N. General Assembly are busy hammering out how to slam Israel and restrict human rights like free speech at “Durban III” – the racist “anti-racism” event to be held in New York on Sept. 22.
With the recent pull-outs by the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands added to the previously declared boycotts by the United States, Canada and Israel, negotiations at U.N. Headquarters continued Thursday over how offensive the final declaration of Durban III can become without more countries following suit.
The Durban III conference will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the conference held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001. That event produced the Durban Declaration, which accused just one country on earth of racism, namely Israel. No negotiations, therefore, can hide the fact that Durban III is a commemoration – in the words of the authorizing General Assembly resolution – of a conference and an outcome remembered most notably for its overt anti-Semitism.
Nevertheless, the U.N.’s idea is that since the General Assembly hall in September will be filled with heads of government already present for the Assembly’s annual opening, more than a hundred world leaders will embrace the Durban Declaration and its racist-Israel mantra for the first time. Durban I sported only a handful of such leaders – like Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro -- while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the only one to attend Durban II.
On the table Thursday was a draft of a “political declaration” to be adopted by the General Assembly at the end of the day on Sept. 22. Negotiations proved to be a toxic combination of U.N. members either pursuing a contorted cover-up strategy or preferring more open Israel-bashing.
The co-chairs from Cameroon and Monaco made the agenda painfully obvious. They insisted that the 2011 declaration will “not re-open previously agreed text” since their “mandate is clearly not to renegotiate the Durban Declaration.” On the contrary, Durban III will have the Durban Declaration “at its core.”
In light of such an admission, the maneuvering of Germany proved most pathetic of all. German diplomats announced that Germany was a beacon of fighting discrimination. They then declared that the draft declaration, which commemorates and reinforces Durban I, was a good basis for discussion, and they were happily prepared to keep engaging in this “constructive” manner. They did manage to note that singling out any country will not be acceptable to them.
In short, according to Germany, a square peg can be fit into a round hole. The Durban Declaration already singles out Israel. The purpose of Durban III is to applaud the Durban Declaration. At Durban II in Geneva in 2009, Germany pulled out just two days before Ahmadinejad opened the conference on the anniversary of Hitler’s birth. True to form (which Germany would have known months beforehand) Ahmadinejad said: “The word Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion and abuses sentiments to hide their hatred and ugly faces." How long will it take the Germans to figure it out this time?
And then there is Australia. On Thursday, Australian diplomats said they were going to stay in the negotiations. They believed the draft declaration was a good starting point and were hopeful about the future. What happened to Australia’s former voice, having pulled out of the Durban II conference in the firm belief that lipstick on a caterpillar does not suffice?
Australia, which is running for a seat on the Security Council this fall, is running scared. The Australians are well aware of what happened to Canada at the last Security Council election. The Canadians were defeated despite a huge investment spiritually, politically and financially in the U.N. for decades because the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to abandon support for Israel, free expression and other rights in the face of repeated challenges from Islamic and Arab states at the U.N. Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Evidently, Australian principles aren’t quite so dear.
Inspired by the weakness of democratic states across the U.N. human rights system – the United Kingdom and France evidently thought at Thursday's negotiations that dead silence was acceptable – the Russians pushed the envelope and circulated lengthy additional suggestions for a Durban III declaration. The Russians are undoubtedly working in collaboration with the 56 states in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The Russian document demanded that the General Assembly on Sept. 22 “express concern about the use of the right to freedom of expression to propagate racism … and recall that the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions.” The Russians also insisted on recapitulating that the Durban Declaration is a “solid foundation for the struggle against racism.”
Durban III – as was easily predicted – is a battleground between weak-kneed, anxious-to-please democratic countries and shameless, brazen non-democracies who hold the balance of power at the General Assembly. How many democracies will continue to play by rules where they cannot win is as yet unclear. What is clear is that there is no middle ground when it comes to being for or against the modern face of anti-Semitism.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.