Congress Joins Fight on "Durban II"

On September 23, 2008, the US Congress adopted House of Representatives Resolution 1361 in anticipation of the Durban Review Conference (scheduled for April 20-24, 2009). This resolution calls on the US government to "lead a high-level diplomatic effort" aimed at "to defeat any effort by states to use the forum to promote anti-Semitism or hatred against members of any group or to call into question the legitimacy of any state."

The detailed text highlights the enormous damage to human rights that resulted from the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, and particularly at the NGO Forum, which "misused human rights language to promote hate, anti-Semitism, incitement, and divert the focus of the conference from problems within their own countries to a focus on Israel." Resonating with the analysis provided by NGO Monitor’s Prof. Gerald Steinberg in a briefing to Congressional members one week before the adoption of the resolution, the text emphasized the damage done by the "’NGO Declaration’ that contained abusive language, branding Israel an ‘apartheid state’ that is guilty of ‘racist crimes against humanity.’"

The resolution, which was based on a draft written in the Foreign Affairs committee, is an impressive display of wide political consensus on ‘Durban II.’  This initiative gained the active support of Rep. Howard Berman, the leader of Democratic majority on the committee, and the Republican Ranking Member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. A total of 24 co-sponsors signed their names to the text, including leading African-American political figure Rep. John Conyers. This broad-based approach reflects opposition not only to the attacks against Israel that are embodied in the Durban process, but also the disastrous impact on genuine human rights concerns that results from these activities.

In sounding the warning, the Congressional resolution also highlights the declared intention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to use the Review Conference to again attack Israel, and to focus on "global blasphemy," which "would legitimize arbitrary restrictions of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the freedoms of expression and opinion, all in the name of protecting religions from ‘defamation’ and ‘blasphemy.’"

On this foundation, the resolution goes on to propose a fifteen-point operational plan, including calling on "the President and the Secretary of State to lead a high-level diplomatic effort to ensure that the Durban Review Conference focuses on the implementation by states of their commitments to combat racism" and "to defeat any effort by states to use the forum to promote anti-Semitism or hatred against members of any group or to call into question the legitimacy of any state."  It advocates pressure on US allies, such as Egypt (head of the African Group and very active in promoting the demonization of Israel, in violation of the 1979 peace treaty), to "ensure that the Durban Review Conference does not become a forum for anti-Semitism, incitement or hatred…"

While not calling for a boycott, the authors of the resolution commend American and European governments "that have declared their intentions not to participate in any …Conference that sidesteps scrutiny of country commitments to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, and that promotes hate, undermines human rights standards, and damages the credibility of the United Nations itself."

This provision, like others, reflects the compromise language designed to get a large number and range of co-sponsors. Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen stated her reservations, noting that this version "places the emphasis on higher level U.S. diplomatic efforts on ensuring that Durban II follows up on the commitments made at the last conference, an effort that could be interpreted as legitimizing the first Durban meeting… it is imperative that we not imply, in hindsight, that Durban I was more positive than it actually was; neither should we pretend that Durban II will be less disastrous than it actually will be."