The United Nations “anti-racism” forum, known as Durban II, is becoming a more important test for President Obama‘s multilateralist ambitions with each passing day. Durban I was the anti-Semitic hatefest that ended three days before 9/11. Durban II – the UN equivalent of the Son of Sam – will take place in April in Geneva. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has called on Obama not to legitimize the meeting, or its message, and not to attend. Canada has decided to stay away. But Obama has still not decided whether the United States will go. This Wednesday, however, the stakes got a lot higher with the UN’s release of the latest negotiating text.
Negotiators have now put on the table claims that (1) a homeland for the Jewish people is racism – a “racially based law of return,” (2) Israel is guilty of “apartheid” and (3) the veracity of the murder of one-third of the Jewish people during the Holocaust is subject to question. A reference to Holocaust facts has now been “square-bracketed” because Iran and Syria have questioned the numbers of Jews that died and consensus is the only guiding principle governing the decision-making process.
In total, six provisions are dedicated to demonizing Israel as racist. Not one of the other 191 UN states is mentioned. The intention is clear: the political defeat of Israel in the same vein as apartheid South Africa, because repeated attempts at a military defeat of Israel have failed.
But Israel is not the only target of Islamic and Arab states and their developing world partners. The draft takes straight aim at freedom of expression and counterterrorism. Free speech should supposedly be curtailed by new laws against “projecting negative, insulting and derogatory images of religions and religious personalities” and the introduction of “a code of ethical conduct” for the media. Counterterrorism activities are “obstacles hampering progress in the collective struggle against racism.”
At the top of the agenda is the creation of a hierarchy of human rights victims with “Muslim minorities” topping matters of concern. “The intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia” is a “most disturbing phenomenon,” the agenda says. “Anti-Arabism” is introduced as intolerance of a religious minority. Religions, instead of individuals, can be defamed. Calls are made to preserve “religious and cultural identities” without reference to universal rights and freedoms. Broad condemnation of “any advocacy of racial or religious hatred which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” is coupled with a refusal to require any finding by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and a fair and public hearing.
In other words, Durban II is a frontal assault on universal human rights and freedoms by religious fundamentalists.
The European Union members have consistently participated in the Durban process from 2001 until today, approving the conference and its agenda. Although some EU states have vigorously protested the offensive draft provisions, they have been totally unable to prevail at each step of the way. Because full democracies are a minority in the UN, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference dominates the developing world, they stand no chance of winning on the numbers alone. Western diplomats, therefore, encourage the operating principle of consensus.
The consensus requirement leaves the radicals with a controlling interest. As a result, Iran is a vice president of the executive committee of the Durban II drafting group and took the floor to voice its “human rights” preferences more often than any other state during last week’s negotiating session. The chairman of the drafting committee repeatedly asked Iran if it agreed with proposals, or suggested to the EU that it negotiate agreed language with Iran. When the meeting ended last Friday, the very first state to express its satisfaction with the preparations for this conference was Iran. Though the Iranian president openly advocates genocide and denies the Holocaust, his representative cooed, “We hope we will continue in the same spirit with our work. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Most important for the new Obama administration, this is not a dialogue from which democratic states or values can emerge triumphant. The multilateral reality is that without the numbers to prevail, the EU will agree on an outcome regardless of the sacrifices required to achieve consensus. The first lamb to be sacrificed will be “racist Israel,” just as the EU allowed in Durban I. In fact, the first Durban conference – where the United States and Israel walked out – is a good indicator of EU strategy at the United Nations: It is not prepared to walk away. This outlook, of course, is well-known to the anti-human-rights crowd. Consequently, they hold out until the end, throw the EU a bone as a “compromise” and watch them hold news conferences for the hometown crowds feigning success.
Durban II, therefore, presents a major test of Obama’s multilateral prowess. If he decides to go, he will legitimize a human rights fraud. American values and interests will be pushed to the fringes while the Europeans hang onto center stage – negotiating with anti-human-rights extremists. In the end, Obama will either have to abandon human rights victims, including Jews, or be forced to walk out and denounce the “consensus” – leaving him marginalized early in his administration.
The obvious solution is both to maintain the status quo for the last 71/2 years – U.S. nonparticipation in the Durban forum – and launch energetic efforts to fashion a more advantageous playing field for multilateral engagement. Skillfully addressed, this is an opportunity to encourage multilateralism that promotes, rather than defeats, universal rights and freedoms.