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Twenty years ago, in September 2001, the United Nations Human Rights Commission held a conference ostensibly to mark the end of apartheid in South Africa and to adopt an auspicious plan to eliminate racism and discrimination worldwide. Instead, this mega-event, held in Durban, South Africa, launched a virulent wave of hate and antisemitism that continues to spread deadly poison. 

Durban had three frameworks – diplomatic, youth and NGOs. At the diplomatic conference, when the proposed text – singling out Israel with accusations of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and similar language – was tabled, the American and Israeli delegations walked out. The Europeans and Canadians [and Australians -Ed.] stayed and brokered a revised text that greatly reduced but did not eliminate the anti-Israel focus. Whether or not this was the right decision continues to be debated.

But the most damaging aspect of Durban was the NGO Forum, including 1,500 participating organisations, with the primary aim of waging a deadly war of hate against Israel. This part of the event was irresponsibly funded by the UN, EU, Canada, and the Ford Foundation. 

There were mass marches through the streets of Durban, and hate material was distributed, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and signs with a Star of David alongside a swastika. 

NGO representatives led by Human Rights Watch blocked and threatened Jewish speakers who did not toe the anti-Israel line. The UN High Commissioner, former Irish President Mary Robinson, presided over these events, but failed to respond. Afterwards, she meekly declared that there was nothing she could have done. 

Plans for hijacking Durban were announced openly at a UN preparatory meeting in Teheran. Based on this script, the NGO Forum’s Final Declaration singled out Israel repeatedly with accusations of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and even genocide, and presented an action plan for “the complete and international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.” Just as the South African apartheid regime was overturned, Israel – as the nation-state of the Jewish people – would be eliminated. 

After Durban, the same NGO leaders and their UN allies moved quickly to implement the boycott and lawfare campaigns, proclaiming their myths as “legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.” In addition to discriminatory boycotts, the International Criminal Court was targeted from the beginning as a platform that could be readily manipulated by anti-Israel campaigners through false allegations and propaganda. This fuels the incitement that in turn leads to antisemitic attacks around the world.