This article was published on Ha’aretz on March 20, 2008.
As the United Nations begins to gear up for another world conference in 2009 to review the outcomes from its discredited 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, governments and NGOs have a responsibility to say "not again." Not again to virulent anti-Semitism, not again to vile demonizing and delegitimizing of Israel, not again to incitement to violence against Jews, not again to the inversion of principles of human rights.
This time there is no excuse; this time no one can say let’s just wait to see what happens. This time the world knows how the noble goals of a world gathering to fight the scourge of racism can be perverted and instead become a cauldron of hate focused on a single country and a single people.
I have often said anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, it is a disease that strikes at the very essence of society. Nowhere in recent history was that virus of anti-Semitism more apparent than on the grounds and in the halls of the 2001 Durban Conference. Another world gathering that is allowed to dissolve into fits of hateful, racist anti-Semitism is simply not worth having. That is the courageous conclusion reached by the government of Canada which already has announced its decision not to participate in the Durban review conference. In announcing their government’s decision, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Multi and Canadian Identity noted they "had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 Durban Review Conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. We have concluded that, despite our efforts, it will not." How sad and unfortunate that Canada may be right. The message from Canada is clear, "Not Again."
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has tried to present an alternative approach to save the Durban Review Conference. He recently gave notice that France will be leading an effort to "remedy the mistakes" of the 2001 conference when he announced "the Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs that turned the conference into a forum against Israel, and no one has forgotten. France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001. Our European partners share France’s concerns. France will chair the EU in the final months preceding the review conference. I say to you: If ever our legitimate demands are not taken into account, we will disengage from the process." In my most optimistic moments, I am rooting for President Sarkozy to succeed.
Then I face the stark realities of a UN Human Rights Council that time and again evades its responsibility to address the worst human rights violations in the world focusing instead on its obsession with attacking Israel. I cannot avoid a UN Security Council with some non-permanent members who won’t even consider accepting a resolution condemning the deadly terrorism of Hamas. These are dispiriting certainties. Israel itself has concluded that it "will not participate and give legitimacy to the United Nations follow-up conference on racism, what is called Durban II, unless it is proven that the conference will not be used as a platform for further anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activities." Canada and France are showing the way for others to follow. They have said loud and clear the world should not give legitimacy to any gathering of nations where hatred of Jews and scorn for the national aspirations of the Jewish people are cloaked in the vernacular of human rights. They have told the world that a conference to combat the scourge of racism is no place to trade in the currency of hatred and bigotry against Jews.
The unwillingness of most in the human rights NGO community and their international funders to confront and denounce the atmosphere of anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel at the 2001 Durban Conference was dismaying and extremely hurtful to the Jewish community. Human rights NGOs have a major role to play in preventing this from happening again. This time, there is no way to claim they don’t comprehend what can happen when they stand by silently and allow a moral vacuum to be filled by irrational hatred. This time they can’t say they don’t understand their hopes to use the World Conference Against Racism as a legitimate high profile platform to have their issues heard depends on a conference environment conducive to civil discourse. And, this time they know it is in their power to ensure that the review conference not be used as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism or incite hatred against Israel.
Yet, as the 2009 Durban Review Conference preparations begin, we do not hear loudly and clearly the call of "not again" from these groups. If governments and NGOs can overcome the forces who want to have another anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hatefest under the guise of fighting racism, then "not again" will mean a victory for the cause of human rights. If they cannot, "not again" will mean following Canada’s lead.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control."