Controversy over the UN’s Durban Review Conference, scheduled for April 2009, began well before the May 2008 meetings of the Preparatory Committee (“Prepcom” in UN jargon). The original Durban conference, which was held in 2001 ostensibly to oppose racism, was exploited by “human rights” leaders to promote antisemitism and discrimination against Israel. The question is whether the 2009 version will repeat this degrading and immoral performance, or whether governments, some NGOs and those funders who have vowed to avoid another abuse of international morality will prevail.

The evidence on lessons learned is mixed, with some positive indications, offset by a number of damaging moves, particularly in the NGO accreditation process during the Prepcom in Geneva. The blatant double standards shown in rejecting the application by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), while instantly accepting the “Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition”, reflects intentions of using the review conference for more anti-Israel propaganda, even if no official NGO Forum is held.  

On the positive side, the Government of Canada acted in the tradition of moral internationalism by announcing that it will not attend in 2009, and recalled that the 2001 “conference degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations.Israel and the US followed, and less committal statements were made by the leaders of France, Britain and Holland. While this will not prevent Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, Egypt and other states represented on UN human rights bodies from holding a conference and pressing their agendas, a plethora of empty seats will demonstrate the lack of legitimacy.

In parallel, the role of the NGO (non-governmental organization) network has come under increasing scrutiny, with 95 groups declaring that “the UN and its human rights fora must not serve as a vehicle for any form of racism, including antisemitism, 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.” The Prepcom meeting included similarly strong statements from officials of a number of NGOs that take the universality of human rights seriously. Tad Stahnke, from Human Rights First, delivered the Magenta/Jacob Blaustein “Statement of Core Principles for WCAR Follow Up”, saying that the misuse of human rights terminology has largely been the result of a “regrettable vacuum of moral leadership.”  And Anne Bayefsky (, see video of the speech) spoke on the history of antisemitism (meaning Jew hatred), despite repeated attempts by the Libyan chair Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji, to cut her off.

In contrast, thousands of NGO officials who participated in the 2001 NGO Forum continue to abuse their resources to exploit the rhetoric of human rights and international law to promote the Durban Strategy of demonizing Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). NGO superpowers such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and FIDH have refused to sign the petition condemning the antisemitism at the 2001 Durban conference in which they were active participants.

In order to prevent another disastrous NGO Forum, some of the main funders from 2001 have changed policies. The Ford Foundation has issued strong guidelines and adopted an undeclared policy of not funding NGO participation for the Durban Review Conference, (although anti-Israel groups, such as Al–Haq, Adalah and MIFTAH, have continued to receive Ford support, directly or indirectly. [2]) Canada, which was also a significant funder for the 2001 NGO Forum, has similarly stopped such funding for the most part. However, as documented in NGO Monitor’s detailed research publication [3], the European Union and various member states, as well as Norway and Switzerland are still providing large funds for numerous NGOs that promote the Durban Strategy of demonization under the banner of peace, human rights, Palestinian democracy promotion, and development. Most have refused to take a clear position on NGO funding for the Durban Review Conference.  [4]

The policies of the New Israel Fund, another prominent source of support for NGOs that promote demonization and the Durban Strategy, are unclear. NIF received a second grant of $20 million from the Ford Foundation, much of which goes to groups like Adalah, the Arab Human Rights Association (HRA), and Hamoked, which engage in anti-Israel campaigns. [5] But NIF also added its name to the Magenta/Jacob Blaustein Statement condemning the role of NGOs in antisemitism and “misuse of human rights terminology in the document related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” in the 2001 NGO Forum. If NIF acts to implement this position, these organizations will not be able to participate in the 2009 Review Conference and still receive this support, but this is uncertain.

Fearing a repetition of the 2001 disaster, there has been no formal discussion of a NGO Forum for the 2009 conference, and UN officials have reportedly decided not to hold one. The absence of an NGO Forum will make it more difficult to hold the type of threatening mass marches organized by virulent anti-Israel NGOs in Durban. In contrast, a group of NGO representatives attending the Geneva Prepcom continued to advocate an agreement to include an NGO Forum, with the backing of some governmental delegations. The European Network Against Racism, a network of over 600 NGOs, issued a statement indicating its support for "the greatest level of NGO participation possible." [6] It is also possible that Libya, current chair of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference, could sponsor an NGO Forum that would include their government sponsored NGOs (GONGOs) and be financed by oil revenues.

Even in the absence of an official NGO framework, numerous highly politicized NGOs that claim to promote human rights will be very active in Geneva during the April 2009 Review Conference. They will continue to enjoy the access and speaking privileges provided to over 2000 NGOs recognized by ECOSOC (the UN’s Economic and Social Council), along with those that were accredited for the 2001 NGO Forum, and the NGOs that were admitted by the 2008 precom.


Beyond selecting an agreed location (Geneva) and dates (April 20-24 2009), the central debate at the April 2008 Prepcom meeting focused on NGO accreditation. The governmental delegates on the committee discussed a total of eight applications from NGOs that were neither members of ECOSOC nor given accreditation for the 2001 NGO Forum. Some of these represented the Dalit minority, which prompted objections from the Indian government and resulted in the dismissal, by consensus, of 33 India-based NGOs seeking accreditation. [7]
But the greatest amount of time was taken up with efforts led by Iran to prevent the participation of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). [8] This contrasted with the instant acceptance of the “Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition” (PGAAWC).  This clear instance of double standards reflects plans to again use radical NGOs to promote anti-Israel racism, and exclude identifiable Jewish NGOs.

CIJA submitted the required paperwork and was approved by the Secretariat, but the Iranians objected, without providing a rationale (in violation of UN procedures) and prevented CIJA from responding. The first day of the Prepcom was taken up by this issue, and as one participant noted, “somebody in the corridor muttered, ‘that name is already a provocation’.”  [9] Later, an Iranian official offered the following "lame" explanation: “This organization has on its website negative information about the Durban Review and they support Israel, these are illegal activities”, which was echoed in various ways by Palestinian, Egyptian, and Algeria. [10] Iran then raised questions, which were submitted to CIJA for response within 48 hours (in the middle of Passover).  A further request for information was made by Iran, demanding a response within 24 hours).  After having submitted over 100 pages of documentation, CIJA withdrew its application in the realization that regardless of the substance, Iran would block consensus and it would never receive accreditation.

To their credit, the delegations from Argentina, which represented the South American nations, Switzerland and Slovenia, representing the European Union, officially supported CIJA’s application. The Slovenian delegate declared, “It is unacceptable that the accreditation process be dominated by political considerations. We need to ensure that the process be fair, respectful and transparent”. [11] But they did not act forcefully to confront Iran, which would have deadlocked the consensus-based procedure, and CIJA had no choice but to withdraw.

The immediate approval of accreditation for the “Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition” (PGAAWC) could not have provided a stronger contrast and display of double standards. The Swiss and European representatives (Belgium and Slovenia) failed to react and this application was approved without discussion. The use of the term “apartheid” in its title, and the specific focus on waging political war against Israel should have led to the denial of accreditation for PGAAWC. Similarly, its mission statement is inconsistent with the ostensible objectives of the UN conference. Unlike the UN Conference statement, which calls on member states “to identify and share good practices achieved in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”, and to review contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, through and inclusive, transparent and collaborative process”, [12]  PGAAWC seeks to  “mobilize and coordinate efforts on local, national and international levels”, and that “these efforts are focused upon stopping and dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and resisting Israeli occupation and colonization.” [13]

Furthermore, in sharp contrast to the information provided by CIJA regarding funding, almost nothing is known about the PGAAWC. As NGO Monitor’s investigation has shown, this NGO coalition does not provide any information on its constituent members or funding sources. Based on the limited public information, including a bank account for donations in the name of the Ma’an organization based in Ramallah (funded by UK, France, Norway and Canada), and ambiguous links to the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), it is possible that funding provided by European governments could well go to this group. [14] And PNGO was a major source behind the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, and continues to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns designed to delegitimize Israel. Yet none of this was discussed at the Prepcom as PGAAWC’s application was approved. This discrimination regarding NGO accreditation and the acceptance of the PGAAWC does not bode well for Durban Review Conference as a whole, and further justifies the decisions of the Canadian, US and Israeli governments to not lend their presence to this event.

In addition, Anne Bayefsky has reported on a so-called unofficial “non-paper” that was distributed to participants at the Durban Review Conference Prepcom. The paper notes that "Egypt and Iran intend to discuss Israeli ‘racism’ against Palestinian victims [at Durban II]." Bayefsky warns that “There’s no sign the European Union is going to be able to prevent this discussion." [15]

Hershell Ezrin, chief executive officer of CIJA provides a useful perspective on the preparatory committee meetings.  “Despite the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hate that blighted and derailed the initial Durban conference [Durban I], there remained hope that, working together, people of goodwill could identify common ground in the fight against racism, discrimination and xenophobia. However, the events of recent days have put into question again the will, or ability, to fix the broken Durban process. While initially we felt it important to defend our name and reputation, it is now clear that, no matter what evidence we supply to demonstrate our bona fides, or how many times we supply it, under how many shrinking deadlines, it will make no difference in affecting the agenda of Iran or its supporters.” [16]


[1] Statement by Mr. Tad Stahnke on Monday, April 28 during the First substantive Preparatory Commission meeting for the Durban [13] Review Conference, Geneva, 11th Plenary meeting, Item 7.

[2] NGO Monitor, "Ford Foundation: 2007 Review of Funding for Political NGOs active in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" January 28, 2008

[3] Steinberg, Gerald. “Europe’s Hidden Hand.” NGO Monitor, Jerusalem, 2008.

[4] “Durban 2009 Update: European responses on NGO Funding.” NGO Monitor. Accessed 8 June 2008

[5] For example, Adalah issued a news update on 14 May 2006, rejecting the High Court’s decision to uphold the Family Unification [13] Law, comparing Israel’s policies with those of apartheid South Africa.

[6] “ENAR statement on Durban Review Conference.” ENAR. 21 May 2008. Accessed 8 June 2008

[7] “I CARE-Special Report- Durban Review Prepcom 1 2008 (Substantive.” ICARE. 21 April 2008. Accessed 8 June 2008 

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] Paul Lungen, “CIJA blocked from Durban II”, Canadian Jewish News, 8 May 2008.

[12] "Durban Review Conference.” Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Accessed 8 June 2008

[13] “The Campaign.” Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. Accessed 8 June 2008

[14] See NGO Monitor, “Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – PGAAWC”, May 4, 2008

[15] Paul Lungen, “UN critic sees worrying signs about Durban II”, Canadian Jewish News, June 4, 2008

[16] Paul Lungen, “CIJA blocked from Durban II”, Canadian Jewish News, 8 May 2008.