Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | April 20, 2009

The Tragic Folly of Durban II

The world has truly become a theater of the absurd when Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad is considered a welcome guest at the UN-sponsored conference on racism that opens today in Geneva. Of course, the conference itself promises to make a mockery of the very concepts of the ideals that it purports to be combating, given that in all likelihood, it will once again turn into an anti-Semitic Israel-bashing session similar to that which occurred during the previous UN racism conference, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.

During the first Durban conference, Israel was repeatedly singled out and demonized as systematic human rights abuses and acts of racism in countries around the world were not even on the radar. One would think that Russia was beneficent towards breakaway Soviet Republics, that China offered government support for the Falun Gong and press freedoms for foreign journalists during the Olympics, that Turkish citizens were allowed to “insult Turkishness”, and that Africa was a bastion of democracy. One would think that women in Iran were given the same rights as men (which, if we are being honest here, do not amount to much in any case), that Iranian bloggers were not living in fear of their government (or dying in solitude in Iranian prisons), that Iranian citizens with dual citizenship were not being thrown in jail for spying on a regular basis.

There’s no question that racism exists in Israel, and anyone who says otherwise is, at best, naïve. Our track record with regard to Arab-Israelis is dismal, and at times, our treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has left me feeling utterly ashamed and mortified. However – and that would be a huge however, Israel is by no means the worst offender. Israelis do not go on violent rampages whenever Judaism or Israel are insulted, we do not burn down embassies of those who offend us. We cry foul when virulently anti-Semitic cartoons are published in newspapers, but we do not threaten the lives of the artists or the newspaper editors. Our leaders do not make it a habit of demanding that other countries be wiped off the map, and if they did, I daresay they would not be asked to address conferences dedicated to fighting racism.

What kind of legitimacy can be granted to such a conference when the leader of one of the most repressive, fanatic regimes in the world uses the conference podium for the singular purpose of vilifying another country? How can we expect the outcome of “Durban 2” to be any different from the outcome of the previous conference, given the sadly predictable nature of Ahmadinejad’s speech earlier today? The walkout by Western delegates means very little – a pathetic show of symbolism that does nothing to lessen the hypocrisy of giving the Iranian president a platform in the first place. The very act of allowing him to speak has destroyed any remaining notions of conference credibility, and anyone who believes otherwise is setting themselves up for disappointment. There can be neither credibility nor legitimacy in such an atmosphere of hate and intolerance, nor can any true solutions be found. And needless to say, having one of the world’s most outspoken Holocaust deniers addressing a global racism conference on Holocaust Remembrance Day pretty much says it all, really.

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  1. […] Original post by Liza R […]

  2. Well said. The best I can come up with is F*** THEM. Is that inappropriate for this blog? I think that it accurately conveys my sentiments.

  3. Very well said.

  4. Well, most of the examples you cite are indeed human rights violations but are outside the topic of ‘racism’, even in its most liberal definition.
    And I’m pretty sure the conference wasn’t timed on purpose for Ahmadinejad’s speech to coincide with Holocaust remembrance day.

    I agree the conference is a disaster, but for different reasons than you do. It was turned into an international “watch out for Israel’s feelings day”, with delegates sitting at the edge of their seats ready to jump at the first mention of Israel and head towards the exit to be photographed as being the countries that refuse that anything bad – nay, anything – be said about Israel. Censorship at its best.

  5. What War Zone: Ummmm…

    Robin: Thanks!

    Mo-ha-med: I concede on your first two points, but with regard to the first one, I mentioned those items to show that Israel isn’t the most evil of them all. Lines weren’t only crossed at the first Durban conference and in today’s speech – they were obliterated, and I think that Israel has a right to point to the abuses in other countries when it is placed under such a vicious microscope as well.

    As for your third point, I think you’re right, and it’s unfortunate that it’s turned out that way. I do believe that Israel has racism issues, and while I don’t have a problem with the country being mentioned in such a framework, I do have a problem with it being vilified and demonized above all others. That’s the problem of this conference. It loses all credibility when delegates repeatedly single Israel out while ignoring all other instances of racism. It shouldn’t be “watch out for Israel’s feelings day”, but rather “let’s talk about racism in all its forms and wherever it is found”. If there are legitimate reasons to bring up Israel, then this is what should happen. There’s no legitimacy in a conference of this kind that focuses solely on Israel – it does a disservice to all those who have the misfortune of being victims in other countries.

  6. Mo-ha-med, your response, and your post, ignore the precedent set by the previous Durban conference, mentioned by Liza, which certainly gave no reason to believe that this one might be any different and – surprise surprise – it has not disappointed.

    The countries whose representatives stayed and listened to AJ’s rant of claptrap are among the most repressive regimes in the world. And while Liza’s examples might not be of racism, I know that personally, I would not wish to live as a racial minority in any of them, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t either. I think if I were a Baha’i in Iran, or a Baha’i in your native Egypt, for instance, I would probably yearn to live under the kind of racism that Israeli Arabs have to suffer.

    That being said, I deplore, as Liza does, the racism inherent in some parts of Israeli society, but I think one has to be very very shortsighted, and very very willfully blind, to see Israel as the only example of such racism in the world.

    And on another note, I found it amusing that Ahmadinejad saw fit to criticize the US for invading Iraq. Apparently, only Iran is allowed to do that …

  7. Well said! Another problem with the extreme Israel-bashing is that it makes it that much easier for people here to dismiss any claims of racism as so much anti-Israel propoganda…and that much harder to actually do anything to improve matters. Yes, we have work to do here but this is really NOT helping!!!!

  8. Religious intolerance is quite probably not the same thing as racism, although the lines certainly blur, especially in your end of the world.

    Here in the US, relgious intolerance is rampant, as is the intolerance of the UN-religious.

    You don’t need a racial difference to find a reason to hate.

  9. I would like to remind people at the narrative that was everyday occurrence during the 60’s in the Arab World’s press. The way Jews and Israelis were ridiculed and the vile of racism and antisemitism. They also called for the destruction of Israel.

    The worse way you can curse a Persian person is call him a “Yahoodi”.

    So, the Arab world all of a sudden wants to shout Racists? Its like calling the cattle black.

    You can blame the Arabs and the rest of the world for contributing for electing a far right government in Israel. In a sense, the Palestinians shot themselves in the foot by alienating moderate Israelis and push them to the right.

    Durban or Belgium would not give the Palestinians their land, it is Israelis that would do that, and right now it doesn’t seem like a possibility in the near future.

    Calling Israelis racists and running to the streets each time something happens again, would give nothing to the Palestinians.

    If people want to get pragmatic, maybe a change in attitude would work…. Remember the early 90’s??

  10. Liza – ah, you make it so hard to disagree. 🙂
    I would’ve loved to see this conference talk about ‘racism in all its forms and wherever it is found’. And as someone commented on my blog, it’s about the middle between vilifying Israel and blocking the entire conference – which the delegates failed to achieve.

    NC – Neither would I. But doesn’t mean the Israeli Arabs have it perfect, right? And wrt: Iran criticising the US for invading Iraq… hilarious!!

  11. Mo – no-one here is suggesting that Israeli Arabs have it perfect, but there is a vast difference between “not having it perfect” and calling a country the most racist country in the world, and grounding one’s claim for its destruction on that basis. What is more, such claims do little to rectify what racism there is, since they are so outlandish, and so obviously simple to refute, that they are entirely counterproductive.

    As for finding the middle, that is an impossibility, since it would require all of those countries – all of them – indicting themselves first, and who’s going to do that?

    As Etay said above – lots of pots calling kettles (or at least, one easily targeted kettle) black. How convenient for everyone.

  12. what was the reaction there to Støre’s speech given immediately after Ahmadinejad’s? I’m curious…

  13. Støre being Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, for those of you not up on Norwegian governmental posts…

    nrg:Curiously enough, I’ve heard absolutely nothing about Støre’s speech. It’s all about AJ, I’m afraid. I’ve heard nothing about any other aspects of this conference – Ahmadinejad’s speech hijacked all conference coverage.

    Mo-ha-med: And that’s the problem here. The delegates either can’t or choose not to find the middle ground that includes intelligent, rational discourse involving all instances of racism/intolerance/etc on a global level. Sadly, the western countries in attendance are seemingly incapable of dealing with this issue. By feigning “neutrality”, they are essentially giving Ahmadinejad and his supporters a free pass to run the show.

  14. He followed Ahmadinejad and rewrote his speech to address what was said. I thought it was well done.

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