NGO representatives expressed disappointment and alienation regarding NGO participation in the Durban Review Conference. Speakers complained that their attendance at the conference was irrelevant and futile. The Outcome Document was adopted before the NGOs had the opportunity to address the plenary. These groups were only permitted to participate in the general debate on the last agenda item. UN staff explained that NGO influence was important for implementation and follow-up. The interaction between the UN and NGOs highlights the latters ambiguous status in the UN framework and the questions about whom they represent.
NGOs capitalize on ideological and political antagonism within the UN to bring their anti-Israel campaigns to the international stage. The devastating impact of NGOs is compounded by the institutional bias of UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian issues, and biased “fact-finding” missions.
UN officials are trying to prevent the type of virulent NGO activity that defined the 2001 NGO Forum at the first Durban conference. The UN sent security personnel to confront hateful posters and speech, and reportedly denied anti-Israel NGOs request for an official side-event. In contrast, Iranian president Ahmadinejad used offensive and racist language against Israel. Human Rights Watch condemned Western democracies for "undermining" the conference, not the racism and corruption of human rights by Iran and radical NGOs.
Using subterfuge, a number of radical NGOs have announced a civil society forum. The objective is to emulate the infamous 2001 Durban NGO Forum, which was characterized by antisemitic violence, and the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. A large public demonstration with activists is planned for Saturday afternoon. The Civil Society Forum is closely linked to the Israel Review Conference, to promote anti-Israel boycotts. In contrast to the Durban event, the 2009 civil society forum in Geneva does not have official UN support.
Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has lobbied for an NGO Forum at the Durban Review Conference, erasing the antisemitism and virulent anti-Israel rhetoric of the NGO Forum at the first Durban conference in 2001. In statements to the UN, WILPF falsely accuses Israel of "relentless destruction of Palestinian infrastructure" and maintaining "more than 650 checkpoints where Palestinians are brutalized and die." WILPF is a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), a highly politicized Israeli NGO umbrella group funded by NIF and the EU.
As predicted by NGO Monitor, the majority of NGO submissions to the UN's UPR of Israel ignore human rights issues facing Israelis and areas where Israel is a leader in this field, while grossly distorting the humanitarian, human rights and international legal dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nord-Sud XXI, Ittijah, Badil, and PGAAWC exploit human rights terminology and employ inflammatory rhetoric against Israel. Adalah, Amnesty, and others attribute "racist" motives to Israeli policies, instead of acknowledging that these are legitimate responses to Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians.
On November 19, 2008, Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, announced that Israel will not participate in the Durban Review Conference in Geneva in April 2009, joining Canada as the only governments to formally boycott the conference. She noted the Draft Outcome Document, which "singl[es] out and delegitimiz[es] the State of Israel," and "legitimiz[es] hatred and extremism and anti-Semitism under the banner of a fight against racism." The US, the UK, France, and Denmark have threatened to boycott the conference, as well.