Engagement is important

An interesting editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald on the Durban II conference (refreshingly challenging the Zionist lobby to stop whinging so much and chasing shadows):

When the nearly 200 nations of the world get down to try to hammer out a common position on human rights, you can expect a fair amount of hypocrisy and blinkered vision to characterise the outcome. So it was with the United Nations Conference on Racism that took place in the South African city of Durban in 2001, and looks like happening with the review conference that opened in Geneva yesterday, with Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as star attendee.

The first conference, in the post-apartheid host country, was heavy on the wrongs and suffering inflicted on Africans through slavery and colonialism, and light on the wrongdoings of Africa’s contemporary leaders. The review conference, post-September 11, 2001, gives more attention to prejudice against Muslims and Islam, while keeping up the general anti-Western slant – as would be expected from a conference with countries like Libya and Cuba on the steering committee.

Yet the last-minute decision by the United States and Australia – following the Netherlands, Canada and Italy – not to attend the Geneva conference is a bit defeatist. A country that has just elected an African-American as its president and begun reaching out to Islamic countries could have held its head high in such a forum. Indeed until last week, the US State Department was claiming success in deleting many of the more egregious contents of the Geneva draft declaration that’s been kicking around the diplomatic circuit in recent months. Out has gone a demand for a new crime of “defamation of religion”, an insistence on slavery reparations, and specific condemnation of Israel as racist. British officials, who will still attend along with French counterparts, were quoted as saying the current draft text is acceptable if “adequate language” is included on the Holocaust and anti-semitism.

Far better for Western and Israeli diplomats to have gritted their teeth, argued against Mr Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying views if repeated, and lobbied for further changes in the draft. As indeed happened in Durban: despite poisonous anti-Israel diatribes on the conference floor (and even more in a simultaneous NGO forum), the final declaration said the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and while calling for a Palestinian state, also backed Israel’s right to security. Much of the campaign by Israel and Jewish diaspora groups against the Durban Review has been jumping at the shadows of what might happen. As is the reasoning of the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, for Australia’s pull-out. If his $35 million campaign to win a UN Security Council seat is to get anywhere, his diplomats will have to get on the floor and wrestle in talkfests like this.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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