Reversing the Destruction of Human Rights Caused by the Durban Strategy and the Demonization of Israel

Professor Gerald Steinberg, Executive Director
Executive Director, NGO Monitor
and Chair, Political Science Department,
Bar Ilan University, Israel


Prepared for presentation at conference of the Italy-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini, Pierluigi Battista (Deputy Director, Corriere della Sera), Piero Ostellino (columnist, Corriere della Sera) and the board of the Italy-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association (Enrico Pianetta, President, Rossana Boldi and Gianni Vernetti, Vice-presidents, and Fiamma Nirenstein, Vice-president, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Italian Chamber of Deputies), Rome, 12 March 2009

The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini, the Honorable Fiama Nirenstein, Enrico Pianetta, Rossana Boldi and Gianni Vernetti, and members of the Italy-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association:

I am here under a false pretense – I was asked to present the case for Italy to lead Europe in withdrawing from the racist Durban Review Conference, to be held by the United Nations in Geneva starting on April 21. I had planned to remind you of the ways in which the 2001 Durban Conference – which was called to lead a campaign to end racism and discrimination around the world – was captured by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a group of radical NGOs with the same agenda. The worst human rights offenders turned Durban into a virulently racist and antidemocratic platform. The OIC and the pro-Palestinian groups used the NGO Forum to demonize Israel, and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination, leading Human Rights commissioner Mary Robinson to denounce the vicious antisemitism. And I had planned to ask you how any democracy could consider giving legitimacy to a draft document for the Review Conference that repeats this language of hate, including the very false charge of apartheid.

However, last week, Minister Frattini completed the process started here on December 4, 2008, when the Italian Parliament went on record with its concerns about participating in the second poisonous Durban conference. Two weeks ago, Mr. Minister, your clear message at the London Interparliamentary Conference on Combating Antisemitism was that if the American government’s effort to end the destruction of human rights planned for the review conference failed, Italy would not participate. When the Obama administration announced the results, you immediately announced that Italy was joining Canada, Israel and the US in taking a moral position to end the abuse.

This mission has been accomplished — Italy will not be in the room when Iran, Libya, Cuba, the Arab League, and even Israel’s so-called peace partners – Egypt, Syria, and Palestinian Authority – use more hate speech to abuse and destroy the lofty goals of the United Nations. We can expect that the statements of the past two months will be repeated in this review conference. For example, in a UN meeting in January, the Syria representative attacked Israel for “the holocaust it is perpetrating.” The Syrian official also repeated the Iranian holocaust-denial position, claiming that “there is no agreement or consensus on the percentage of those who perished in the Holocaust. .. Maybe those who perished were half of the Jewish people, maybe less than half, maybe a third, maybe less, I don’t know."

Members of the OIC, including Egypt and the Arab League, uses hate speech to erase the context of Palestinian terror and 8000 rocket attacks from Gaza Similarly, the Syrians accused Israel of genocide, adding “Women and children in Palestine are being buried alive. The schools of the United Nations have been turned into mass graves…” The same words were used by the Libyans, who referred to “the army of the Zionist entity.” The representative of the Arab League, which has told the world that it is committed to peace, demonized Israel with charges of “collective massacres that are committed against the Palestinians…The aggression continues barbarically against the Palestinian civilians.” And the representative of the Palestinian Authority made the most offensive comparison between Israeli defense against terror and the Nazi atrocities, stating that “victims of Aryan purity have been transformed into the proponents of Jewish purity”.

These and other delegations in the preparatory conferences and draft declarations are attempting to force through statements which would prohibit criticism of Islam or surveillance of mosques. This United Nations process has declared war on freedom of speech by seeking to give Islam special protection. These are the reasons that Canada, the US, Israel and Italy have refused to provide this with legitimacy.
And for those who condemn the refusal to participate, and argue that by engagement, this incitement and hate speech will be removed, we must remind them that this hope is not supported by any evidence. For many years, reasonable discussions and persuasion with the purveyors of this evil have not changed their agendas. The opposite has occurred — negotiation with immorality has legitimized and increased the impact of incitement.

To have an historic impact in the Durban Review Conference, it is important that Iran, Libya, Cuba, Syria and their allies speak to a room which is empty – particularly of representatives of the democratic world. The pictures of the empty desks will delegitimize not only the upcoming review conference, but also the catastrophe of the 2001 conference, including the NGO Forum.

Therefore, I call on Italy to lead the other members of the European Union to end their silence and announce that they will not sit through another Conference that uses the language of anti-racism to justify antisemitism, singling out of Israel through false and obsessive allegations, or deny the Jewish people the rights enjoyed by others, including self-defense and self-determination. The loud and clear renunciation of the 2001 Durban conference will mark a major step in this process – it will have historic importance.

But these UN conferences are only one dimension in the Durban strategy – and the repair of what remains of international morality and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will require a long term strategy. Together, we must end the cynical exploitation of international law, including the use of double standards, to justify the very discrimination for which these instruments created after the destruction of the Second World War and the Holocaust. The United Nations Human Rights Council and votes on these issues in the committees of the General assembly have become a travesty.

Italy and Europe must take a leadership role here as well. For too many years, Europe has been a silent partner, having abandoned its international responsibilities, abstaining or voting with the anti-democratic majority, and leaving the United States, Israel, and recently, Canada and Australia alone to fight these battles and oppose the agenda of the OIC. The Bush Administration refused to continue, leading the European Union to call for American re-engagement. And President Obama has agreed to return to the Human Rights Council as an observer, but this will fail unless Europe plays its part in this struggle. It you are serious about protecting human rights, free speech and democracy, and fighting antisemitism in all of its forms, Europe can no longer abstain or hide its head in “politically correctness”.

Similarly, in the venue of civil society, Italy and Europe must go beyond the slogans used by powerful political groups that sit at the table, including the United Nations, and reinforce the Durban strategy of hatred and restricted speech. Amnesty International was an active participant in the racist activities of the 2001 Durban NGO Forum. Since then, and particularly in the past year, this formerly moral organization has lost its reputation by leading the campaign against democracies and the right of self-defense against terror. The false or unverifiable charges in many of Donatella Rovera’s reports on Israel, Hamas and the Gaza tragedy have destroyed this organization’s credibility. Recently, an Amnesty publication sought to delegitimize Israel’s right to acquire weapons in self-defense. The fact that Hamas openly calls for killing of Jews and for “wiping Israel off the map” is erased from Amnesty’s immoral agenda.

Hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), that are part of the uncivil “civil society” in Europe, are in fact governmentally funded non-governmental organizations, operating without the standard requirements of democratic accountability. Through humanitarian aid agencies and peace frameworks, the national governments of Europe, and the European Commission spend hundreds of millions of Euros every year supporting radical ideologies and adding to conflict. Many of the NGOs that lead the poisonous Durban strategy of demonization – including some based in Italy — and that give legitimacy to goals of Hamas, are funded by projects chosen in the European Commission’s Partnership of Peace Program, and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. Similarly, a detailed examination of the Euromed Human Rights Network will show that this organization is used by radical groups to repeats the language of incitement which is characteristic of the Durban strategy.

Radical Italian NGOs participate actively in this process. Some, such as Terres des Hommes Italy have signed anti-Israel petitions using the term “apartheid” to demonize Israel. Trade unions and the branch of “Al Awda” are active in the “stop the wall” campaign, which is also involved in Durban through the “Grass Roots anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition”. The Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII receives a great deal of money from the European Commission to promote the Palestinian narrative, under the facade of non-violence and dialogue.

If Europe expects to be taken seriously in future peace negotiations, this practice of funding hatred must end. There is no justification for the EU flag to be featured on NGO publications that refer to Israel using hate speech, such as “apartheid”, racist”, accuse Israel of genocide when it defends its citizens against terror, and campaign for boycotts and international isolation. This abuse of EU funds is immoral. To quote the UK’s All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, “The singling-out of Israel is of concern. Boycotts have not been suggested against other countries… The discourse around the boycott debate is also cause for concern, as it moved beyond reasonable criticism into anti-Semitic demonization of Israel.”

The Italian parliament can set an important example for Europe by investigating the tremendous waste of taxpayer funds and the damage done by these NGO campaigns of hatred and discrimination.

Today, I call on you – the members of the Italian parliament and government – to lead Europe not only in delegitimizing the Durban Review Conference, but to start the process of investigating the abuse of NGO funding that contributes to this process in the EU and its member states.