When will anybody even acknowledge Palestinians?

Murdoch’s Australian editorialises today on the Durban II conference and predictably focuses on the rantings of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (rather than even acknowledging the issue of Palestinian suffering):

Australia was right to have no part of Durban II

Before its second conference on racism opened in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the UN’s reputation was on the line: “Let us recognise the difference between honest disagreement and mere divisiveness or, worse, sheer obstructionism. Let us lead by example, knowing that our own reputations are at stake.”

The UN’s integrity has been tarnished as the conference degenerated into bitter farce because of the pernicious, anti-Semitic tirade by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Singling out Israel as “the most cruel and racist regime” created “under the pretext of Jewish suffering” in World War II, the Iranian tyrant’s 30 minutes of racist bile, a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, vindicated the Rudd Government’s decision not to attend.

Australia’s non-participation could cost us heavily in our quest to be elected to a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in 2013-14. But the more important question the Rudd Government must consider is whether it is worth committing scarce resources to further that aim. Last month, the Lowy Institute reported that Australia’s diplomats are overstretched, underfunded and ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

As Greg Sheridan reported recently, Australia has 91 diplomatic missions across the world when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average is 150. The only OECD nations with fewer missions than Australia are Ireland, Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic and New Zealand, with populations no more than a quarter of ours.

On paper, the aims of the Geneva conference were laudable: eliminating racism and promoting tolerance. Such efforts deserve the support of all civilised nations. As a sequel to the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, however, the talkfest was always likely to be problematical. Far from decrying racism, the final declaration of the Durban I conference was highly racist, branding Israel a racist, apartheid state. And the attendance of Mr Ahmadinejad – who has called the Holocaust a myth and who wants Israel wiped off the map – made an anti-Semitic tirade inevitable.

Australia’s decision, last weekend, not to attend Durban II came after US President Barack Obama made a similar call. Australia delayed its decision in the hope that organisers would improve the draft text, but the Government also, undoubtedly, had an eye on gathering support for its Security Council bid. This was also the point of Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s 10-nation, 19-day lobbying tour through Africa.

To put the Security Council battle in perspective, its current non-permanent members are Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam. Membership would extend our influence temporarily, but joining would make no difference to Australia’s status as a middle power. Australia’s democratic values, stability and engagement with the world have given us the strength and status to hold our head high on the world stage.

Before Durban II, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said participants would “be judged harshly” if the conference failed. So they will be. Some nations, rightly, walked out as the Iranian President spoke. Whatever the cost of our non-participation in terms of votes for the Security Council, Australia was right to have no part of it.

The paper’s letters on the subject are mixed:

In Geneva a notorious anti-Semite and misogynist was the keynote speaker at a UN “anti-racism” conference on the eve of the annual commemoration of those who were murdered in the Holocaust—Holocaust Memorial Day (“Ahmadinejad sparks racism meet walkout”, 21/4).

Is it not time for the world to acknowledge that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and this conference actually promotes racism and misogyny? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Navi Pillay should be called upon to resign.

How can any country whose leaders genuinely believe in human rights attend such a farce? How can any human rights organisation be taken seriously when they take part in a circus that denigrates the basic tenets of human rights and where Eli Wiesel stands outside as a protester and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the keynote speaker?

Elise Margow
Caulfield South, Vic

A perfect example of irony: the Iranian President, an adversary of peace and the leader of a country which practises human rights abuses based on gender and religion, addressing a UN conference on racism.

Joel Feren
Melbourne, Vic

Criticism of Israel is justifiable given its poor track record of treating the Palestinians. The recent assault on Gaza surely demonstrates this. Palestinians living in Israel, Israeli-Arabs, do not have the same access to housing, education, employment and other aspects of daily life, yet Israel qualifies as a democracy? Surely this is racism—read apartheid. The world forced South Africa to change, so too must Israel.

Moammar Mashni
Australians for Palestine
Melbourne, Vic

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