Israel Announces Boycott of U.N. Anti-Racism Meeting

By Julie Stahl | November 19, 2008 | 4:13 PM EST

Jerusalem ( – Concerned that a United Nations conference against racism will become an anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing affair, Israel on Wednesday announced its intention to boycott the meeting, saying it does not want to “legitimize” the forum by participating in it.
The Durban Review Conference, set to convene in Geneva in 2009, is intended to review the progress made in implementing the final declaration of the U.N. World Conference on Racism (WCAR) that took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Critics claimed the 2001 conference singled out Israel for unfair criticism, turning the meeting into a forum for accusations and incitement against the Jewish State.
The conference concluded that “Zionism” – the Jewish national movement for a homeland in the Biblical land of Israel – was tantamount to racism, and it denied the unique nature of the Holocaust (in which six million Jews were murdered because of their religion), Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Wednesday.
Although Israel suspected that the Review Conference would be a repeat of the first conference in Durban, it waited to see if the conference would repeat “the incitement and gross excesses” of 2001, Livni said.
Unfortunately, the draft of the final document for the 2009 meeting submitted to the preparatory committee “contains the same language of hate, which undermined the first Durban Conference.” It repeats almost word-for-word the rhetoric of the planning meeting held before the first conference in Tehran, Iran, Livni said.
“Once again extremist Arab and Muslim states wish to control the content of the conference and derail it from its original mission,” Livni said.
The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is a bloc of Islamic states that represents one-third of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, which is overseeing the preparations for the conference. The OIC is pushing the Israeli-Palestinian issue onto the agenda this time as it was previously.
The draft declaration that appears on the U.N. website labels Israeli policies “a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide and a serious threat to international peace and security.”
It also refers to the “plight of the Palestinian people” and accuses Israel of “unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction on movement and arbitrary closure of [Palestinian] territories.”
It asserts that Israel’s administration of Jerusalem and holy sites here exhibits “racial practices.”
“During recent months, we expressed the hope that the language of hatred will not repeat itself; we declared that we will not agree to the singling out of Israel, and we will object to incitement and condemnation of Israel,” Livni said.
“Despite our efforts and those of friendly countries, for whose position we are grateful, the conference appears to be heading once again towards becoming an anti-Israeli tribunal, which has nothing to do with fighting racism,” she added.
Livni said that Israel would not participate in the conference or legitimize it, because it would be used “as a platform for further anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity.” She urged the international community not to participate in the conference because, she said, it sought to “legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of the ‘fight against racism.’”
Canada already has announced its decision to stay away from the 2009 conference. Israel and the U.S. boycotted the conference seven years ago, and no one knows yet whether President-elect Barack Obama will send a delegation to next year’s meeting.
Some Jewish groups expressed their approval of the Israeli decision.
Global blasphemy clause’
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League also welcomed the Israeli decision and told that it had no plans to attend the conference.
“While the 2001 Durban Conference had noble goals of countering international racism, the entire proceeding was monopolized and tainted by base anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Israelism. There is every reason to believe that the Durban Review Conference will not be an improvement,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.
Foxman added that the ADL was concerned by the “intensive efforts” of the OIC to push the conference to “demand that governments set restrictions on freedom of expression in order to outlaw speech they deem to be ‘defamatory’ toward Islam.”
But such restrictions, he said, would be “tantamount to a global blasphemy code by restricting freedom of expression in the name of protecting Islam.”
In Israel, the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor welcomed the Israeli decision not to attend, saying it set “an important benchmark.”
“It is now clear that any government or NGO that provides greater legitimacy to this destructive farce also contributes to the destruction of universal human rights and to rising anti-Semitism through the singling out of Israel,” said executive director, professor Gerald Steinberg.

The group called on leaders of human rights organizations and other democracies, particularly those in Europe “to re-examine their policies, and follow Israel and Canada's example in order to prevent a repetition of the 2001 catastrophe,” Steinberg said in a statement.
‘We are here’
Shimon Samuels, director of international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said he welcomed the decision of Israel and Canada to boycott the conference. He wondered if the U.S. would follow suit. But Samuels said that the NGOs have a different role to play.
Samuels participated in meetings in the run-up to the first conference in Durban. He was referred to derogatorily at the time as the “world Jew,” gagged in steering committee meetings, and even physically ejected, he told
But Samuels said that while countries boycott the conference, he thinks it’s important for NGOs to attend even if there is a repeat performance of 2001.
One night during the conference some 15,000 people marched in the city carrying signs that said ‘[Adolph] Hitler was right’ and ‘Long-live Palestine’ and surrounded a tiny Jewish club there, Samuels said.
NGOs represent the voice of civil society. Some countries exploit the voice of NGOs, Samuels said, but they cannot be allowed to hijack the conference.
In the same way that there was a “defiant cry” from some in the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews were confined during World War II, so Samuels said he feels there must be alternative voices at the conference, saying “we are here.”
Paris-based Samuels said he has already been threatened this time, though he would not say by whom for fear that they would sue him. A Franco-Palestinian group has already sued him, he said, in what he calls “judicial jihad.”
He also has been told by those planning the NGO forum that if there is anti-Semitism at the conference, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will just have to live with it, he said.