We are in the anniversary month of two events that will live in infamy.
First was the Durban Conference, which promoted the notorious slander that Israel is an apartheid state. The second was the 9/11 suicide bombing of New York’s World Trade Center.
Both incidents of course deserve hearty condemnation by every person and nation of conscience. Unfortunately, then—as now, on the eve of the U.N.’s 20th-anniversary meeting of the Durban Conference—the sorry event was endorsed by a majority of United Nations members.
In late August and early September 2001, one of the worst spectacles of modern anti-Semitism took place in Durban, South Africa. Held under the auspices of the United Nations, the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR for short) was hijacked by Iran, Arab and Muslim hate groups, and anti-Semitic and anti-Israel NGOs.
The governmental conference, which ran from Sept. 2-9, was preceded by the nongovernmental organization conference from Aug. 27 to Sept. 2 that witnessed some of the worst hate official hate against the Jewish people since the end of the Holocaust. Jewish participants were verbally and physically assaulted, mobs chanted anti-Semitic slogans, posters lauding Hitler appeared all over and the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was handed out.
At the NGO Forum that preceded the official conference, participants could already see the anti-Semitic influence in the “The NGO Declaration” signed by many international NGOs. Even though the document did not single out any other nation or conflict, it called for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state … the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.” In other words, Israel was the world’s ultimate designated evil and should be separated from all other nations.
Amazingly, the rest of the NGO hate-fest just got worse. According to participants, conference-goers noticed a ubiquitous flyer bearing a picture of Adolf Hitler, with the text: “’WHAT IF I HAD WON?’ The good things: There would be no Israel and no Palestinian’s [sic] bloodshed.”
The Arab Lawyers’ Union also distributed pamphlets filled with caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money nearby. Copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were available. Calls to the organizers to remove the materials went unheeded. Jewish students who set up booths were surrounded and screamed at.
Many Jewish participants were warned not to be seen in public places because of physical threats to them. When they tried to insert a clause into the final conference document, they were refused and publicly walked out. Eduardo Kohn, the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American Affairs, said: “While we were walking, we received very, very, very rude insults, anti-Semitic insults and the threats of being attacked, I mean attacked physically, attacks that were averted by the guards of the conference, I mean, if we didn’t have the protection of the guards … ”
Despite the Bush Administration attempting to intervene, the die was cast. Even the virulently anti-Israel former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson was embarrassed enough by the disturbingly anti-Semitic nature of the final document that she rejected it, which eventually lost her candidacy for the position of U.N. Secretary-General.
The event even had a connection to 9/11—which took place a few days later and understandably overshadowed the conference. The Hitler pictures on display at the conference were created by someone who worked for Osama bin Laden. Yousuf Deedat, who printed the flyers, told the media that the bin Laden family was a major donor to his organization, the Islamic Propagation Center.
The Durban WCAR, more than any other event, was behind the propaganda strategy that has predominated in the subsequent two decades—smearing Israel with the “apartheid state” label and formulating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions program. This was not created by liberals or progressives, but by a combination of actions by the Islamic Republic of Iran, extremist Arab and Islamist groups and anti-Semitic organizations and individuals. In fact, both Israel and the United States ultimately walked out of the governmental conference.
Over the years, a number of follow-up events—instead of dealing with the vital issues of racism, xenophobia and intolerance—have targeted only one people and one nation. Organizers well noted the success of the first 2001 conference—especially the acquiescence of the international community, who in part encouraged it or at least allowed it.
On Sept. 22, the U.N. General Assembly will bring together world leaders for a one-day meeting in New York to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Preliminary announcements assure us it will be another anti-Semitic and anti-Israel celebration of hate. Thankfully, a record 31 countries thus far have said they will not attend, including the United States. A State Department spokesperson said the United States “remains deeply committed to combating antisemitism at home and abroad. Furthermore, the United States stands with Israel and has always shared its concerns over the Durban process’s anti-Israel sentiment, used as a forum for antisemitism and freedom of expression issues.”
Fourteen European Union member states—Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Netherlands, as well as Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the United Kingdom—have also dropped out.
Each of these nations, especially the United States, should be congratulated for taking this moral stance against hate and anti-Semitism. It is growing increasingly difficult, especially in Europe, for leaders to stand by Israel and the Jewish people. Indeed, where are the Scandinavians, Poles, Romanians, Swiss and Spanish—to say nothing of Israel’s Arab partners in the Abraham Accords?
However, the dissenters have made the honorable decision, knowing full well that this latest conference will not meet the lofty goal of combating racism it originally heralded when first held. Instead, this event will again become a dangerous place, where one nation will again be intentionally targeted by enemies of the West in an attempt to ensure its ultimate destruction.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.
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