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U.S. should attend U.N. racism conference, but walk out if ‘Zionism = racism’ arises
August 10th, 2001
Jewish Renaissance Media
Southfield, Mich. — American Jewish leaders are justifiably concerned about a United Nations conference that will convene at the end of the month in Durban, South Africa.
Unless the conference organizers come to their senses, the meeting will adopt a resolution reviving the vicious, hateful proposition that Zionism is equivalent to racism.
One immediate question is whether the United States should send representatives to the conference. It boycotted U.N.-sponsored human rights gatherings in 1978 and 1983 that threatened to make the Jewish state the object of condemnation while deliberately ignoring the scores of tin-pot tyrannies that are the chief practitioners of ethnic hatred in today’s world.
Spurning the conference would be a simple solution were it not for the wishes of many black American leaders. They feel that this country has never owned up to its own problems of racial intolerance, and they would like the conference to promote specific actions such as reparation payments for America’s role in encouraging the slave trade.
Jewish leaders are hesitant to urge a boycott lest that be misinterpreted as opposition to legitimate interests and sensitivities of black Americans.
Further complicating the equation is the pressure on the Bush Administration to behave more multilaterally after its ham-handed rejections of the Kyoto pact on global warming and the treaty limiting nuclear weapons, and its planned abrogation of the treaty limiting the development of anti-ballistic missiles.
In preparation for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance — the title itself is a masterpiece of bureaucratic gobbledygook — a group of Arab and Muslim nations pushed for draft language saying Israel was founded on an ideology “based on racial supremacy.”
The draft calls Israel an “apartheid, racist and fascist state” that is committing a “holocaust,” “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians in its “quest to create a Jewish settler state.”
Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, has properly urged that the language be dropped. Her boss, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has also deplored efforts to politicize what had been planned as a relatively modest effort to call attention to the continuing global problems of discrimination.
But the same handful of representatives who engineered America’s shameful exclusion from the U.N. Human Rights Commission earlier this year is pushing to retain the attack on Israel.
The threat of a U.S. boycott may be enough to expunge the offensive words and ideas from the draft resolutions. But they could all too easily be revived once the conference is under way.
In that case, the U.S. must be prepared with an effective exit strategy that calls wide attention to how the term “racism” is being perverted by countries that most sharply restrict individual freedom and most routinely trample on their citizens’ rights.
America must determine in advance that it will not go quietly if the conference reverts to the “Zionism equals racism” travesty. And it must make its intentions crystal clear to the conference organizers.
For now, it is better to go to Durban prepared to fight for real resolutions that condemn real racism and real human-rights violations. If those emerge, the world can claim a victory.
And if the conference revives “Zionism = racism,” the United States must walk and leave the conferees to stew in their own indigestible juices.
Jonathan Friendly is national editor of Jewish Renaissance Media.