While most Americans were busy celebrating Valentine’s Day, last Saturday the Obama administration announced that it would send a delegation to Geneva to participate in planning the UN’s so-called Durban II conference, scheduled to take place in late April. Although largely overlooked in the US, the announcement sent shock waves through Jerusalem.
The Durban II conference was announced in the summer of 2007. Its stated purpose is to review the implementation of the declaration adopted at the UN’s anti-Israel hate-fest that took place in Durban, South Africa, the week before the September 11, 2001, attacks against America.
At Durban, both the UN-sponsored NGO conclave and the UN’s governmental conference passed declarations denouncing Israel as a racist state. The NGO conference called for a coordinated international campaign aimed at delegitimizing Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, and belittling the Holocaust.
The NGO conference also called for curbs on freedom of expression throughout the world in order to prevent critical discussion of Islam. As far as the world’s leading NGOs – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – were concerned, critical discussions of Islam are inherently racist.
In defending US participation in the Durban II planning sessions, Gordon Duguid, the State Department’s spokesman, argued, "If you are not engaged, you don’t have a voice."
He continued, "We wanted to put forward our view and see if there is some way we can make the document [which sets the agenda and dictates the outcome of the Durban II conference] a better document than it appears it is going to be."
WHILE THIS seems like a noble goal, both the State Department and the Obama White House ought to know that there is absolutely no chance that they can accomplish it. This is the case for two reasons.
First, since the stated purpose of the Durban II conference is to oversee the implementation of the first Durban conference’s decisions, and since those decisions include the anti-Israel assertion that Israel is a racist state, it is clear that the Durban II conference is inherently, and necessarily, anti-Israel.
The second reason that both the State Department and the White House must realize that they are powerless to affect the conference’s agenda is because that agenda was already set in previous planning sessions chaired by the likes of Libya, Cuba, Iran and Pakistan. And that agenda includes multiple assertions of the basic illegitimacy of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The conference agenda also largely adopted the language of the 2001 NGO conference that called for the criminalization of critical discussion of Islam as a form of hate speech and racism. That is, the 2009 conference’s agenda is not only openly anti-Israel, it is also openly pro-tyranny, and so seemingly antithetical to US interests.
Beyond all that, assuming that the Obama administration truly wishes to change the agenda, the fact is that the US is powerless to do so. As was the case in 2001, so too, today, the Islamic bloc, supported by the Third World bloc, has an automatic voting majority. Beyond chipping away at the margins, the US has no ability whatsoever to change the conference’s agenda or expected outcome.
SINCE IT came into office a month ago, every single Middle East policy the Obama administration has announced has been antithetical to Israel’s national security interests. From President Barack Obama’s intense desire to appease Iran’s mullahs in open discussions; to his stated commitment to establish a Palestinian state as quickly as possible despite the Palestinians’ open rejection of Israel’s right to exist and support for terrorism; to his expressed support for the so-called Saudi peace plan, which would require Israel to commit national suicide by contracting to within indefensible borders and accepting millions of hostile, foreign-born Arabs as citizens and residents of the rump Jewish state; to his decision to end US sanctions against Syria and return the US ambassador to Damascus; to his plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq and so give Iran an arc of uninterrupted control extending from Iran to Lebanon, every single concrete policy Obama has enunciated harms Israel.
At the same time, none of the policies that Obama has adopted can be construed as directed against Israel. In and of themselves, none can be viewed as expressing specific hostility toward Israel. Rather, they are expressions of naiveté, or ignorance, or – at worst – deliberate denial of the nature of the problems of the Arab and Islamic world on the part of Obama and his advisers.
The same cannot be said of the administration’s decision to send its delegation to the Durban II planning session this past week in Geneva. Unlike every other Obama policy, this is a hostile act against Israel. This is true first of all because the decision was announced in the face of repeated Israeli requests that the US join Israel and Canada in boycotting the Durban II conference.
Some could chalk up the US’s rejection of Israel’s urgent entreaties as an honest difference of opinion. But what lies behind Israel’s requests for a US boycott is not a partisan agenda, but a clearheaded acknowledgement that the Durban II conference is inherently devoted to the delegitimization and destruction of the Jewish state. And by joining in the planning sessions, the US has become a full participant in legitimizing and so advancing this overtly anti-Jewish agenda.
On Thursday, Prof. Anne Bayefsky, the senior editor of the EyeontheUN Web site, demonstrated that by participating in the planning sessions the US is accepting the conference’s anti-Israel agenda. Bayefsky reported that at the planning session in Geneva on Thursday, the Palestinian delegation proposed that a paragraph be added to the conference’s agenda. Their draft "calls for implementation of… the advisory opinion of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] on the wall, [i.e., Israel’s security fence], and the international protection of Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory."
The American delegation raised no objection to the Palestinian draft.
Issued in 2004, the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the security fence claimed that Israel has no right to self-defense against Palestinian terrorism. At the time, both the US and Israel rejected the ICJ’s authority to issue an opinion on the subject.
On Thursday, by not objecting to this Palestinian draft, not only did the US effectively accept the ICJ’s authority, for practical purposes it granted the anti-Israel claim that Jews may be murdered with impunity.
This assertion aligns naturally with the language already in the Durban II agenda, which calls Israel’s Law of Return racist. This law, which grants automatic citizenship to any Jew who wishes to live here, is the embodiment of Jewish peoplehood and the vehicle through which the Jewish people has built our nation-state. In alleging that the Law of Return is racist, the Durban II conference asserts that the Jews are not a people and we have no right to self-determination in our homeland. And Thursday, by participating in the process of demonizing Israel and its people, the US lent its own credibility to this bigoted campaign.
OBAMA’S SPOKESMEN and defenders claim that by participating in the planning sessions in Geneva, the administration is doing nothing more than attempting to prevent the conference from being the anti-Jewish diplomatic pogrom it was in 2001. If they are unsuccessful, they will boycott the conference. No harm done.
But this claim rings hollow.
As Bayefsky and others argued this week, by entering into the Durban preparatory process, the US has done two things. First, it has made it all but impossible for European states like France, Britain, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, which were all considering boycotting the conference, to do so. They cannot afford to be seen as more opposed to its anti-Israel and anti-freedom agenda than Israel’s closest ally and the world’s greatest democracy. So just by participating in the planning sessions the US has legitimized a clearly bigoted, morally illegitimate process, making it impossible for Europe to disengage.
Second, through its behavior at the Geneva planning sessions this week, the US has demonstrated that State Department protestations aside, the administration has no interest in changing the agenda in any serious way. The US delegation’s decision not to object to the Palestinian draft, as well its silence in the face of Iran’s rejection of a clause in the conference declaration that mentioned the Holocaust, show the US did not join the planning session to change the tenor of the conference. The US is participating in the planning sessions because it wishes to participate in the conference.
The Durban II conference, like its predecessor, is part and parcel of a campaign to coordinate the diplomatic and legal war against the Jewish state. By walking out of the 2001 Durban conference, and refusing to participate, support or finance any aspect of this UN-sponsored campaign until last Saturday, for seven years the US made clear that it opposed this war and believed its aim of destroying Israel is unacceptable.
By embracing the Durban campaign now, it is possible that the Obama administration will water down some of the most noxious language in conference’s draft declaration. But this doesn’t balance out the harm US participation will cause to Israel, or to the Jewish people. By participating in the conference, the US today is effectively giving American support to the war against the Jewish state.
The open hostility toward Israel expressed by the Obama administration’s decision to participate in the Durban process should be a red flag for both the Israeli government and for Israel’s supporters in the US. Both Israel and its Jewish and non-Jewish supporters must openly condemn the administration’s move and demand that it reverse its decision immediately.
FOR THE past two years, the American Jewish Committee has been instrumental in convincing the American Jewish community to reject repeated Israeli requests that they call for a US boycott of Durban II. To secure US participation over Israel’s objections, the AJC even went so far as to sign a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her not to boycott the conference.
In return for the AJC’s labors, its senior operative Felice Gaer is now a member of the US delegation in Geneva. Happily ensconced in the Swiss conference room where the Holocaust is denied, the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is reviled, and Israel’s right to defend itself is rejected, Gaer now sits silently, all the while using the fact of her membership in the US delegation as proof that the Obama administration is serious about protecting Israel at Durban II.
Whatever the AJC may have gained for its support for Durban II, Israel and its supporters have clearly been harmed.
Some might argue that no Israeli interest is served by openly condemning the White House. But when the White House is participating in a process that legitimizes and so advances the war against the Jewish state, such condemnation is not only richly deserved but required. It is the administration, not Israel that threw down the gauntlet. If Israel and its supporters refrain from vigorously criticizing this move, we guarantee its repetition.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.