• The PrepCom, which was held in Geneva Oct. 6-17 to prepare for the 2009 UN Durban Review Conference, included numerous efforts to expand the demonization and racism that characterized the 2001 conference.
  • Most signs point to a repetition of the disastrous 2001 event, unless a number of European countries either force changes in the texts being drafted or decide on withdrawal, which would delegitimize the conference.
  • NGO participation in the PrepCom was divided, with some calling for a wide examination of discrimination against minorities around the world, and opposing a repetition of the antisemitism and singling out of Israel for attack. Other NGOs pressed the anti-Israel and anti-Western agenda of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), in support of these sections of the draft document that was under discussion.
  • BADIL (Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights), funded by Trocaire (Ireland), Norway, Switzerland, Oxfam, and others, accused Israel of “systematic ethnic cleansing” and racism against the Palestinians.
  • At a Plenary meeting on October 15, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP) unambiguously condemn[ed] the policy of occupation pursued by Israel and the serious violations of human rights that are being perpetrated by the Israeli authorities”
  • Strong counter-statements were made by Human Rights First, Magenta, the Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and others.
  • Human Rights Watch, which was active in the 2001 NGO Forum, did not address antisemitism or other core issues in its statement at the PrepCom, continuing a policy of avoidance.
  • The question of whether to hold an NGO Forum was discussed but not decided upon. Unofficial meetings of NGO representatives on this issue included antisemitic and anti-Israel attacks against Jewish representatives. Charles Graves (Interfaith International) chaired the meeting and denied that the 2001 NGO event was antisemitic.
  • NGO Monitor sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling on him to “avoid providing official sponsorship or funding for another NGO Forum that is likely to be a venue used to promote hatred and antisemitism.” Similar letters were published by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee.
  • Debates on the Review Conference draft final document will continue in sessions scheduled for January and April, with the OIC group pressing for delegitimization of Israel through terms such as “apartheid,” “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”

Overview of the PrepCom

The second substantive Preparatory Session for the Durban Review Conference (DRC, scheduled for April 2009) was held in Geneva from October 6-17, 2008.1 Libya, chair of Preparatory Committee, headed the ten-day session, at which government delegates and NGO representatives debated the agenda for the DRC, the possibility of another NGO Forum, implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action from the 2001 conference, and assessment of Durban follow-up mechanisms. A compilation of regional texts for the Draft of the Outcome Document was also produced as a basis for negotiation. Additional “intersessional” meetings have been announced, and a third PrepCom has been scheduled for April 15-17, 2009, in the week preceding the DRC.

Another antisemitic NGO Forum?

In the Durban 2001 conference, the NGO Forum (which was held under the auspices of the UN) was the most virulent source of anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel and the Western democracies. As noted in an April 2008 statement signed by over 100 NGOs, “Observers were shocked by violations of procedure in the preparatory and drafting processes, the racist treatment including violence, exclusion, and intimidation against Jewish participants, and the misuse of human rights terminology in the document related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” After the conference, then UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson denounced the “hateful, even racist” antisemitic atmosphere in the NGO Forum, refusing to endorse the final declaration, which demonized Israel through terms such as “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “racist crimes” and “acts of genocide,” and calling for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state…the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes.”

On this basis, the question of whether the UN will facilitate an official NGO Forum in the 2009 DRC, in which the anti-Israel and anti-Western agendas will be emphasized, is critical. (NGOs that are accredited to the UN via ECOSOC, or which received specific accreditation for the 2001 Durban or 2009 Review conferences are also granted access to the diplomatic proceedings).

On October 14, 2008, NGO Monitor sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling on him to “avoid providing official sponsorship or funding for another NGO Forum that is likely to be a venue used to promote hatred and antisemitism” and “would further undermine universal human rights principles in the framework of the 2009 Review Conference.” Similar letters were published by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and theAmerican Jewish Committee on October 17, 2008.

In an October 6, 2008 speech, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay acknowledged the NGO antisemitism of 2001, while minimizing its implications:

Seven years ago at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, the virulent anti-Semitic behaviour of a few non-governmental organizations on the sidelines of the Durban Conference overshadowed the critically important work of the Conference. Measures were taken to address this betrayal of the core principles of the Durban Conference, and the NGO document was not forwarded to the Conference.

The question of whether an official NGO Forum will be held at the 2009 DRC remains open, as does the question of possible funding sources. According to a report in, a South African delegate declared: We are now all in full agreement about the maximum participation of NGOs… NGOs in fact can gather in their own setting and they can then come up with constructive input that they can then deliver at the point in time that [they are] allowed to make such interventions. That would certainly help the process. But it has to be in some sort of forum setting so that at least they have an opportunity to talk amongst themselves as to how best to take the process forward from their point of view and to assist the intergovernmental process.”

However, according to a media report, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “Ultimately it would be for NGOs to decide whether or not there is an NGO forum, although the U.N. would, of course, have a say on whether or not it took place on U.N. premises […] So far, there does not seem to be any interest on the NGOs´ part in having one.” The positions of European governments on this issue are also not known.

During the PrepCom, a number of NGO delegates met separately to debate the NGO Forum, and highlighting the inherent dangers. On October 16th, “a group of NGOs, misleadingly presenting itself as the NGO Committee on Racism” (a subcommittee of CONGO – the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN), held a session, chaired by Charles Graves of Interfaith International — an NGO active in the first Durban conference and identified with comments justifying suicide bombings in the context of the “occupation.” Claiming that the UN would provide them with facilities, some of the NGOs appointed regional coordinating committees to advance the prospects of an NGO Forum. Shimon Samuels, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, reported that some speakers demanded: “representation from the Middle East region´s Arab NGOs; that the European region be asked to address “Islamophobia”; that an NGO Caucus be created to produce a hard-language Final Declaration to impact upon the Governmental document; to hold the NGO Forum just before the DRC in order to fully participate in influencing Governments.”

The meeting assumed what was described as a “Durbanesque atmosphere,” with one NGO activist-participant declaring: “We have problems with pro-Israelis. We will condemn the occupation of Palestine. We know who you are and where to find you. We watch you in Paris and know everything about you.” Additionally, Charles Graves praised the 2001 NGO Forum and denied that its Final Declaration contained antisemitic content: “The NGO Forum was a turning point in the history of the world. There was nothing in the NGO Forum Declaration that was antisemitic or anti-Israel. There is no guarantee that the new NGO Forum will be Semitic or antisemitic. Whatever it is will have to be accepted. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is trying to get me to say there will be no repeat of what happened in Durban. I cannot guarantee that!”

NGO Statements to the PrepCom

A number of NGO officials spoke at the formal PrepCom sessions, after the governments´ delegates and following some debate on time allocation. Representatives from BADIL attempted to single out Israel for condemnation in pursuit of the Durban Strategy, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP) focused particularly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Independent Jewish Voices denied that the first NGO Forum was marked by antisemitism. At the same time, others, such as Magenta, Human Rights First, and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism provided a counterweight,

The following is a selection of excerpts of the oral contributions of various NGOs:

  • BADIL (Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights), funded by Trocaire (Ireland), Norway, Switzerland, Oxfam, and others:The systematic ethnic cleansing for more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of their villages and is still denied the human rights of self-determination, justice, equality by the State of Israel.Institutionalized racism and discrimination on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, race and religion constitutes a root cause of consequence of the ongoing internal forcible displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Joint statement by BADIL and Habitat International Coalition

  • The International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), represented by Diana Ralph from Independent Jewish Voices (Canada):[The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action that was issued after Durban I] devoted less than 250 words out of 180 pages to concerns of Jews and Palestinians, all of which we believe, carefully balanced recognition of the rights of Jews and Israel with those of Palestinians. There was no antisemitic content in it.As Jews, we assert that it is entirely legitimate and not anti-Semitic, to object to Israeli policies that discriminate against Palestinians, not to mention occupying, torturing, assassinating, and collectively punishing them. Those critical of the Review hope to discredit legitimate criticism of racist Israeli policies and practices and to protect Israel, the US, Canada, and some EU countries from being pressured to redress historic and ongoing racist practices.We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice and we unconditionally support the Durban Review Conference.
  • B´nai Brith International:[Expresses concern about the fact that the documents] single out one and only one geographic issue among the thousands of issues treated by these documents, namely the problems related to the Middle East conflict involving the Palestinian people. It is our hope that this selectivity will find no place in the final outcome document this session, so as to avoid diverting the attention of the Durban Review Conference from its true and manifold problems of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia around the world.
  • Hudson Institute, the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (Joint Statement delivered by Prof. Anne Bayefsky):Upon closer examination it appears that expanding condemnations of only Israel at the Durban Review Conference, is supposed to be the point, not the problem. The representatives of various Arab and Muslim states have stated their support for these paragraphs and also proposed additional language condemning Israel.Why are its representatives afraid to say unambiguously out loud — these allegations are a gross defamation of Israel, a slander against the Jewish people, antisemitism dressed up as human rights? Why have the members of the European Union failed to point out that one-fifth of Israel´s population is Arab with more democratic rights than in any Arab state, while Arab states are now effectively Judenrein.
  • Magenta:Hatred for and criticizing a religion in general cannot be a part of the anti-racism or anti-discrimination discourse.Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that underpins many other freedoms.Filter out religion as a subject of protection from the international human rights discourse.
  • Human Rights First (HRF):The provisions of the DRC outcome document should not prejudice the ability […] to interpret article 20 of the ICCPR and article 4 of the CERD […] to allow the interpretation of these articles to take place in a legal framework rather than by political negotiations.
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW):Fully justified concerns about the complex relationship between racial and religious intolerance and hatred should not be the pretext for undermining key freedoms, including freedom of speech.Focus on protecting the rights of individuals, including members of religious minorities, rather than on the protection of religions themselves.The Conference must be careful not to privilege the protection of particular religions and instead maintaining a consistent approach to all religions.

For more NGO statements on the Durban Review Conference, see

Outcome Document: Submissions and Drafts

The primary focus of this PrepCom was on debating the draft of the final statement (the so-called “outcome document”) to be adopted at the official government forum of the 2009 Durban Review Conference. The various submissions discussed at regional meetings over the past year were compiled into a single preliminary draft for this debate, and some of the sections were discussed in detail. A number of sections repeated the demonizing language of the 2001 NGO Forum Final Declaration, attempting to move this process from the NGO to the governmental dimension.

In particular, the submission of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Asian regional draft, which was heavily influenced by the OIC, accuses Israel of “apartheid,” “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”; alleges that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism; refers to the “racially based law of return,” promotes the Palestinian “right of return,” and denies the legitimacy of Jerusalem´s status as Israel´s capital.2

  • African Preparatory Meeting, Outcome Document:32. Reiterates its concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupations, urges respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law and calls for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. (Note that this passage is repeated, verbatim, in page 12, paragraph 114 of the Draft of the Outcome Document).This paragraph represents the only specific national conflict mentioned in the African document, even though it is located outside of the region. African-based suffering, including the ongoing genocide in Darfur, racially-based war in Congo, and discrimination in South Africa and Zimbabwe, do not appear.
  • Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)3:Although 7 years have passed since the adoption of DDPA, the Palestinian people continue to be denied the fundamental right of self determination. In order to consolidate the occupation, they have been subjected to unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction on movement and arbitrary closure of their territories. Illegal settlements continue to be built in the occupied territories. (repeated, verbatim, in pages 12-13, paragraph 115 of the Draft of the Outcome Document)Asian Regional contribution:26. Express deep concern at the plight of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons who were forced to leave their homes because of war and racial policies of the occupying power and who are prevented from returning to their homes and properties because of a racially based law of return, and recognize the right of return of the Palestinian refugees as established by the General Assembly in its resolutions, particularly resolution 194 (111) of 11 December 1948, and call for their return to their homeland in accordance with and in implementation of this right; (repeated, verbatim, in page 13, paragraph 116 of the Draft of the Outcome Document)

    The emphasis on the Palestinians is related to the Outcome Document´s portrayal of Muslims as victims of Western racism, submitting to the Algerian delegate´s request that “new forms of racism such as Islamophobia, racial profiling, and discrimination targeted at migrants” constitute an integral part of the Outcome Document4:
    26. The most worrying trends since 2001 include racio-religious profiling and discrimination, defamation of Muslims, their faith and beliefs, incitement to religious hatred and its concomitant effects on multiculturalism, national and international peace and stability as well as human rights of the affected communities

Even at the expense of freedom of expression5:

11. Recent events have once again highlighted the need to demarcate the legal contours between freedom of expression and hate speech. OHCHR´s proposed Expert Consultations on the permissible limits to freedom of expression, by taking into account the mandatory prohibition of advocacy of religious hatred, should reach some conclusions and recommendations coming out from the consultations should be worthy of including in the Review Conference documents.

The French delegate, on behalf of the European Union, expressed alarm about the prospect of sacrificing a fundamental Western right for the sake of religion, “[… we must not] spoil this opportunity by seeking to restrain freedom of expression or other fundamental rights.” Yet, the EU´s contributionto the Durban Review Conference is silent with regard to the antisemitism of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism and expresses only general “concern [about] the overall rise in instances of intolerance and violence directed against members of many religious and other communities … including cases motivated by Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Christianophobia” (paragraph 35). Meanwhile, paragraph 101 of the EU document praises the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which continues to fund some of the NGOs most actively involved in promoting the Durban Strategy.

Articles of Interest

Girding Up for Durban II, By LESLIE SUSSER, Jerusalem Report, October 13, 2008

Durban II – a new battlefront opens, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Europe News, October 8, 2008

World Jewish Congress Welcomes UN Official´s Remarks on Durban Anti-Semitism, By PR Newswire, Virtualization, October 7, 2008

U.N. and the West Trying To Prevent Another Anti-Israel ´Durban´ Meeting, By Marc Perelman, The Jewish Daily Forward, October 8, 2008

Concern rising over Durban II conference, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 7, 2008.