Durban-2: Fighting Racism or Defending It?

Durban-2: Fighting Racism or Defending It?

  • 26 April 2009

Durban-2, the United Nations’ second conference on fighting racism that was held in Geneva 20-24 April, 2009, was supposed to be an occasion for mobilizing international efforts to confront the increasing danger of racism and religious, racial, and cultural bigotry besetting humanity for a long time and threatening world peace, security, development, and coexistence. But the incessant efforts by Western countries before and during the conference to prevent the condemnation of Israel’s racial practices, and the deliberate distortion of the Islamic religion under the pretext of freedom of speech, appeared like an attempt to defend and cover up those racial practices instead of condemning and ending them.

The first such convention in Durban, South Africa, at the beginning of September 2001 issued resolutions that were more positive and effective than the second, especially those that condemned Israeli racial practices. Durban-1 re-invigorated the historic United Nations decision of 1975 that declared that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination” and asserted that “racial regimes like Israel’s and racial movements like Zionism are more protected than their victims.” The conference’s decisions also included essential clauses regarding Palestinian rights, especially self determination and indivisible and inviolable human rights, as well as Israel’s obligation to cease racial practices and commit to humanitarian and international laws. Despite the importance of those decisions, the resolutions of Durban-1 were soon forgotten in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks that took place only three days after the end of the convention. Those attacks mobilized all the world to join the so-called “international war on terrorism” that was badly exploited to legitimate racial practices that have greatly increased after these attacks, especially against Arabs and Muslims who were accused of being responsible for those attacks.

During the intervening eight years between the two meetings, Israel has not stopped its racial practices. Instead, they have worsened. These included the construction of the racial separation wall that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice that demanded its removal and the compensation of Palestinians wronged by it. They also included the declaration of the Jewish nature of the state, continued racial cleansing against Palestinians by demolishing their homes and dispossessing them in order to confiscate their land, and the siege against and starvation of the population of the Gaza  Strip since 2006 under the pretext of weakening HAMAS after it assumed power there following internationally-recognized democratic elections. Last but not least, Israeli practices included racial crimes committed during the naked aggression on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 that led to the death of 1,200 persons and the destruction of thousands of homes and civilian infrastructure, as well as its latest aggression on Gaza that led to the death of 1,500 Palestinians and the injury of around 4,000 others. Many other Israeli crimes were also described by international legal institutions as representing “war crimes,” “genocide,” and “crimes against humanity.”

Subsequently, Arab and Islamic countries worked during the preparatory meetings of Durban-2 to include in the convention’s final communiqué a clear condemnation of Israel’s racial practices. With the help of some African and Latin American countries, they succeeded in inserting in the first draft criticisms of Israel’s policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians in Gaza through economic siege, restrictions on movement through crossing points, and continued closures. They also inserted a classification of Israel as a “state founded on occupation and settlement construction and built on racial foundations and laws.” This was widely criticized by Israel which called upon the Western countries to boycott the convention under the pretext that it has become a “podium for anti-Semitism” and “an anti-Israeli stage.” Western governments quickly responded and the United States, Germany, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand announced their boycott of the convention. Those European countries that attended had promised to resist any condemnation of Israel or turning the convention into an event for exposing its policies and human rights violations. France was the most committed when President Nikola Sarkozy asserted that his country “will not allow the convention to turn into an arena for attacking Israel.”

But this did not completely prevent criticisms of Israel for its practices. The strongest among these was by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who described it as a “racist state” and demanded a stop to its transgressions, a position that was faced by violent and wide criticism. Delegations from 23 European countries were quick to leave the convention hall during Ahmadinejad’s speech while the Secretary General of the United Nations expressed his “regret” about Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel speech, considering it contradictory to the objectives of the convention. The French President also described the speech as “a call for racial hatred and it must not be left unanswered.” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown described it as “offensive and provoking,” while Washington described it as “hateful and outrageous.” Six European delegations also withdrew from the convention hall when the Libyan representative described Israel as a racist state.

European countries participating in the convention were indeed able to excise any overt condemnation of Israel in the final communiqué. The document was devoid of any reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and of any mention of Israeli racist practices towards the Arabs and the Palestinians. Instead, it included a paragraph confirming the need to confront all types and manifestations of racism and racial discrimination and hatred of foreigners, including in areas under foreign occupation. It also included a separate paragraph about the un-deniability of the Jewish holocaust.

Condemning Israel was not the only point of contention at the convention. Other points of difference included the disagreement about a clause that condemns the “defamation of religion” which was proposed by the Islamic countries. These were concerned about insults and criticisms under the pretext of freedom of speech, as has happened as a result of last year’s abusive drawings of the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, angering millions of Muslims around the world. The European countries rejected this clause, considered it as not conforming to human rights charters, and succeeded in removing it from the final communiqué. However, the communique asserted that provocation of hatred on the basis of religion represents a clear violation of human rights, and that freedom of speech or opinion cannot be used as an excuse nor insulting religious symbols and texts. It also considered anti-Islamism as a form of racism, just like anti-Semitism. Another point of contention was sexual freedom (homosexuality) which Western and Latin American countries insisted on including in the final communique but Islamic countries rejected because it contradicts the principles of human nature and the Islamic Shari`a.

The convention has made some important decisions, especially those regarding confronting the increased danger of racism and bigotry worldide that is the reason behind many problems, conflicts, radical trends, and religious and cultural confrontations besetting the world. Still, the insistence by  the Western countries to protect Israel and to prevent a condemnation of its racist and discriminatory policies against the Palestinians and Arabs sends a negative message. The convention has changed from an international forum on combating racism to a defender of it. The policy of double standards still governs the Western positions towards the Arabs and the Muslims even on these issues of humanitarian import.