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Regardless of whom one supports in the US presidential election, Senator Obama’s emphatic reminder this week of the importance of confronting racism in all its manifestations touched a chord among all who care about promoting equality and creating a more civil and respectful society. In this context, the convocation of a major international conference against all forms of racism should cause major excitement and celebration among human rights activists. Instead, with memories of the Durban 2001 debacle still fresh on the minds of many leading human rights actors, considerable anxiety is the prevailing mindset as preparations begin for the proposed 2009 Third World Conference against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR).
While many details about the upcoming WCAR remain to be determined, the current debate in the Jewish community and among governments and international organizations is whether to ignore the event entirely on the ground that a repeat of 2001 is inevitable or to work towards transforming the conference into a serious and constructive gathering. Given present considerations, the governments of Canada, Israel and the United States seem intent on boycotting the proceedings. However, an alternative approach is being promoted by the Magenta Foundation, a non-governmental organization based in the Netherlands, which was founded in 1992 to combat attacks on migrant workers and asylum seekers in Germany.

Magenta has formulated a statement of core principles for application in discussions surrounding the preparation of the WCAR. To date, 67 human rights and other organizations, including the New Israel Fund, have signed the principles. The core principles are articulated as follows:

  1. We are united in our deep commitment to the goals of the WCAR to chart a course for future generations to eradicate racism, discrimination and intolerance in all its forms.
  2. Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance afflict peoples in many Member States. We are committed to the important mission of NGOs to monitor and hold accountable those responsible for policy failures and for lack of implementation of measures to prevent and punish such acts.
  3. However, the global effort to eradicate racism cannot be advanced by branding whole peoples with a stigma of ultimate evil, fomenting hateful stereotyping in the name of human rights.
  4. The UN and its human rights fora must not serve as a vehicle for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, and must bar incitement to hatred against any group in the guise of criticism of a particular government. We pledge to prevent this from happening again.
  5. We pledge to uphold language and behavior that unites rather than divides. As NGOs we commit to use language in accordance with international human rights standards and conduct ourselves with civility and with respect for human rights standards.

NIF joins the signatories out of an abiding concern that anti-Semitic language and actions not be sanctioned at any upcoming WCAR follow-up forums. In doing so, we draw a distinction between abhorrent anti-Semitism or anti-Israel racist statements, and legitimate criticism of the human rights policies and practices of Israel, the US or any other country. We also acknowledge that, in the years since the first WCAR and particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, we have witnessed an ugly increase in Islamophobia on the world stage. Thus, we call on those participating in various preparatory conferences, the WCAR and related dialogues on the subject of racism, to remain equally vigilant in ensuring that neither anti-Semitism nor Islamaphobia are provided the opportunity to rear their ugly and destructive heads in public discussions or in proposed declarations.