- Michael Dickson
Ready for Durban III
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
The efforts of the anti-Durban activists and the mass walkout of diplomats marked a watershed.
I had been warned, prior to the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, that Jews should not walk around the surroundings of the UN alone, but rather in pairs for their own safety. This was advice which I ignored and thankfully, I emerged from Durban II unscathed. The same cannot be said of the reputation of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We arrived in Geneva with trepidation; we expected the ugly scenes witnessed at the Durban I conference in 2001, where vicious anti-Semitic demonstrations outside the conference mirrored the bile poured on Israel from inside the UN. Yet we were determined. This time, we vowed, we would not be caught by surprise, and we would not underestimate the hateful attempts to scapegoat Israel by some of the worst human rights abusers. The countries that make up the UN Human Rights Council demonstrated once again that they prefer to bark at Israel rather than address the very real abuses taking place in their own backyard. At Durban II, we shone the light back on these nations and the glare was witnessed worldwide. At Durban II, human rights activists, students and those whose agenda was being ignored, including refugees from Darfur, stood up and said: No more.
PRIOR TO THE opening of the conference, the Swiss president met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, citing freedom of speech as justification. This caused noted civil liberties champion Alan Dershowitz to comment that "if Hitler were still chancellor of Germany, he would be welcome in Switzerland." With this backdrop, we staged our own opening to Durban II, a silent protest, led by student demonstrators. They walked towards the Palais Des Nations with tape over their mouths to reflect the silence of the UN on issues such as the violent oppression of women, the genocide in Darfur which claims a life every eight minutes, the suppression of students, minorities and gays in Iran - and all because of the obsessive focus on Israel. This was a human rights conference opened by a genocidal dictator. A gathering on racism where Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was lambasted by members of the Iranian delegation in the corridors of the UN as a "ZioNazi." In the words of a journalist I met who was covering Durban II: You couldn't make it up.
Durban II - a review conference - could never remove the stain of Durban I. The Durban process was a mass diversion. Changing the subject is a favorite pastime of many of the countries who lead the Human Rights Council, which betrays the noble aims upon which it was founded. Its members obfuscate the agenda to avoid answering questions about themselves. They ratchet up the rhetoric against Israel when, in reality, the Jewish state, a free, open and liberal democracy, has a human rights record to be proud of. The efforts of the anti-Durban activists and the mass walkout of diplomats in the face of Ahmadinejad's racist rant marked a watershed event.
The lesson of Durban II is this: The words "never again" mean something to us. There are many nations worthy of sanctions; Israel is not one of them. And we will not stand idly by while atrocities are committed by hypocritical, despotic regimes and Israel is singled out for blame.
Let the countries who hijacked the fight against racism be put on notice: We are ready for Durban III.