The Durban Follies in New York

On September 21, 2011, the Durban III Conference is to be held as a special session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.  The decision to do so and thus commemorate the tenth anniversary of Durban 1 was made by the UNGA in December 2010 by a vote of 104 votes for, 22 against and 33 abstentions.

A number of countries, including so far the United States, Canada, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, and Israel, have announced they will not attend the conference. All have realized that the Durban process, I and II, has been a travesty of human rights concerns and that it has promoted rather than combatted racism. Instead it has been a platform for relentless attacks on Zionism.

It is ironic the Durban meetings, the so called World Conferences against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, should have been the forum for ugly displays of intolerance and antisemitism. The main thrust of the outcomes of Durban 1, held in September 2001, and Durban 11 held in Geneva in April 2009, was the repeated charge against Israel of racism and apartheid. One consequence of this charge was the impetus given to the campaign for boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions against Israel. The Durban statements led to fewer specific contacts with Israel; the overall objective was to isolate Israel from the world community.

 Durban I was hosted by, and in essence was an extension of, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a body which, since it was set up in 2006, has condemned Israel in about half of its resolutions, and which in 2011 included in its membership countries not renowned for their advocacy and display of human rights such as Saudi Arabia, Angola, Cuba, Qatar, China, and Kyrgystan. Durban I was attended by representatives not only of states but also of about 1500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some of which helped shape the critical language later used about Israel at the Conference. The conference of Durban II was prepared by a committee whose chairs were representatives from Libya and Cuba.

The conclusions of the Durban process are a sad commentary on the bias within the international community. Though Israel was not directly named, those conclusions, which clearly referred to it, stated that a foreign occupation founded on settlements, with laws based on racial discrimination to maintain domination of the occupied territory, totally contradicted the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. In their immoderate language the documents held that Israeli policy was a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a new kind of apartheid, a form of genocide.  Mentioning only one group in the world the Durban process was concerned about "the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation." It recognized the right of refugees to their homes and properties. Israel was charged with occupation, but obvious violations of human rights such as China's occupation of Tibet, and Russia's occupation of Japanese islands remained unmentioned.

The spurious nature of the Conferences was clearly shown at Durban II which provided an official platform for a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only head of government to attend the meeting. In his customary manner and extravagant rhetoric he declared that Israel was a racist state masquerading as a religious one and that it was the most cruel and repressive racist regime in existence. This of course was before the Arab Spring and the revelations of human rights in the Arab countries. The Iranian leader in his raucous declaration accused the West of using the Holocaust as a pretext for aggression against the Palestinians. If he was more careful in referring to the Holocaust as an "ambiguous and dubious position," he did advocate the end of the state of Israel.

Whether or not Durban III will persist in its anti-Israeli fulminations, certain conclusions can be drawn from the process. The very timing of Durban III on September 21 in New York, ten days after 9/11, is a gratuitous insult to the sensibilities to the United States and to the freedom loving countries. More of those countries should follow the example of the eight countries mentioned above in refusing to attend what has been an anti-Western propaganda manifestation. The Durban process has not been a milestone in the inherent struggle against racism but rather the reverse in its manifestation of political hatred. Finally, the United States might use the occasion to start a prosecution against Ahmadinejad for violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as a result of his call for the elimination of the state of Israel.

Michael Curtis is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University.