Like Israel their idol, Zionist organisations have a tendency to win wars, and to become weaker and more deranged with every victory. The Durban Review conference was a Zionist victory of that kind.
The war was long in the planning. Since being cited from racism by the NGO form in Durban 2001, Zionist organisations began meticulously preparing their assault. The target was the bundle of UN agencies, NGOs and social movements that used the historic delegitimisation of racism in the West to empower victims of racism. From obvious reasons, most if not all of those whose work is devoted to combating racism support Palestinian rights. That is a problem for Zionism. In Durban, the official document, after much wrangling, mentioned Palestinian rights in four innocuous paragraphs that reiterate commitment to the partition of Palestine and that famous ‘peace process’. The document even affirmed Israel's right to security. There was no mention of racism despite this being the subject of the conference. Israel however was not amused by Palestinian suffering even being mentioned in an official document about racism.
A bigger problem at Durban was the adjacent NGO forum, a conference attended by over 2,000 NGOs, whose final declaration contained much stronger (and generally more accurate) language about Israel. No doubt, the NGO forum had some internal problems, but that wasn't Israel's concern. Nor was it anti-semitism. No doubt some anti-semitic material was distributed at Durban, certainly in the demonstrations around town; perhaps, but only perhaps, in some corners of the NGO forum. But how much? Here is what Cecilia Surasky from Muzzlewatch has to say after being in Geneva:
‘Coming here myself has made me distrust virtually all reporting of Durban I. Already, I see terms in the media like ‘hate-fest’ and the ‘racist anti-racism conference’. ...I don’t doubt there was anti-semitic literature and language at Durban I. But was it 90 per cent of the conference, or .09 per cent? I have no way to know. I do know, however, that yesterday’s Sharansky, Voight, Dershowitz session, supposedly on anti-semitism, was a tour de force of insulting and demeaning anti-Muslim/Arab stereotyping and callousness, infused with Islamophobia, and that not one media account will ever call it what it is.’
The problem for Israel was that its racism was undeniable, and that the overwhelming majority of the 2,000 NGOs gathered in Durban were ready to say so despite strong pressure. What was about to be lost in Durban was the power to shape the discourse, in simple words, hegemony. The Durban NGO forum, while not democratic enough, was too democratic, too open to Southern perspectives, too representative of real world public opinion and too disrespectful of the powerful interests that keep racism alive, among other places in Palestine. The tools of international law, the language of human rights and the delegitimisation of racism could become effective.
This was unwelcome not only to Israel, but to a lot in the North, whose current affluence is to a very large extent the fruit of colonial exploitation and racism. The official Durban Conference was discussing slavery and was raising the spectre of reparations, not only to African-Americans but also to Africans. A conversation about racism was also becoming a conversation about existing wealth disparities between South and North. Talking about race could be the antidote to the neo-liberal paradigm that blames poverty on the poor. That was scary to a lot of vested interests, especially as the spirit of the Social Forum was learning to speak the language of the international legal system.
Since Herzl's famous ‘rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’, Zionist organisations know who their natural allies are. Northern powers wanted the Durban process brought down a notch, and they were happy to oblige. A slew of organisations was created or retrofitted for the task, The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, UN Watch, NGO Monitor, Human Rights First, the AJC, The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and others. Their goals: To defund NGOs that support Palestinian rights, to discredit and disrupt those U.N. processes that threaten Israel's right to be racist, and to undermine demands for global justice and accountability that inevitably involve accountability from and about Israel. NGO Monitor spells this out in some detail.
Let us first recognise the Zionist ‘achievements’.
Honest anti-racist NGOs have lost a lot of funding, some of it redirected to Zionist astroturf. The UN and the Ford Foundation stepped out of organising an official NGO forum in Geneva. An unofficial effort to have an NGO forum produced a small gathering of around 150 NGOs. The organisers did everything they could to exclude the Palestinian issue. They still got no money. The final declaration, despite the best efforts of the Zionists and the organisers, kept the right tone. But it was hardly noticed by the international press, bamboozled with an extravaganza of Shoa business starring Elie Wiesel, Bernard Henri-Levy, Alan Dershowitz and others.
The official conference was also disrupted. Nine countries, led by all the genocidal settler colonial states (the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) joined Israel in boycotting the conference over fears of imaginary anti-semitism. Nevertheless, and at least to keep European countries from leaving as well, the official declaration dropped all mention of Palestine, beyond reaffirming the anodyne original declaration (as if there was nothing to review in Palestine eight years later). Supposedly, the document avoided mentioning specific victims. In fact, Roma people are mentioned by name, as they should be, and Jews are also mentioned effectively by reference to the Holocaust and anti-semitism. People of African descent are mentioned by name, as they should be, and Muslims are mentioned by one unsatisfactory reference to Islamophobia. But neither the new document nor the original it re-affirmed mentions Palestinians as victims of racism, which, given the horrible and deteriorating conditions in Palestine, is frankly absurd. Worse still, under pressure, the document was adopted early, without discussion and without allowing any input from the thousands of NGO that actually work daily with issues of racism.
With ridiculous excuses, the UN secretariat banned Palestine-related side events at the UN during the week of the conference. Only they didn't ban all of them. Only those that wanted to present a Palestinian anti-racist perspective were banned. The UN did allow a real anti-Islam and anti-Arab hate festival organized by Zionist organizations. You can get a taste of it (if you dare) with this ten minutes of Dershowitz explaining why Palestinians are not victims but "heirs to Hitler”. It is perhaps ironic, but the word that best describes this discrimination by UN officials, discrimination against victims of racism who must listen to racist speech against them inside the UN and don't event have the right to respond, is 'racism.'
The press was successfully fed the Zionist talking points. Obama himself described the original Durban declaration as unacceptable. The New York Times editors, abysmally and shamefully ignorant, wrote that ‘Israel was the only country singled out in the final conference communiqué’.(NYT, April 20, 2009) Indeed, in that final declaration, Israel was the only country mentioned by name as having the right to security. Newspapers feasted on Ahamadinejad's speech and followed the Zionist talking points, calling the Durban Review conference a ‘hate-fest’ and refusing to publish elemental corrections to Zionist disinformation. Indeed it was a hate-fest, a hate-fest against Palestinians and Muslims in general.
I will leave the question of Ahmadinejad's speech to later and focus here on what looks to me as the other outcomes of the conference.
First, the conference was not destroyed. Thanks to Zionist sabotage, the important and concrete struggles against racism all over the world that this conference was supposed to help move forward have been overshadowed and ignored. Nobody paid attention to them and not much was achieved beyond a watered down reference to religious persecution. The text of the declaration was also watered down significantly. That outcome, supported by the Western press and Western governments, is shameful. But on the other hand nothing was rolled back. Most importantly, the Durban declaration has been reaffirmed, and the various UN mechanisms will continue to work with it and advance its specific recommendations.
Second, Zionist organisations exposed themselves as never before as the enemies, not only of Palestinians but of the whole South and of victims of racism everywhere. Their sabotage of the conference, their contempt for the work that it embodies, for the principles it represents and the goals it seeks to achieve left a bitter taste in the mouth of every organisation and every human rights worker and activist who was there for honest reasons. Navil Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who presided over the conference, spoke of 'a widespread, and highly organised campaign of disinformation...that was so determined to kill the conference'. Zionist activists packed meetings, disturbed proceedings, manipulated unsuspecting African groups and exploited Darfur and Rwanda with the goal (in which they ultimately failed) of creating discord and preventing resolutions from being reached. Their dishonesty and unscrupulousness, and their willingness to destroy the UN and the whole edifice of human rights laws, is going to be remembered. One would wish that this memory is going to be proactive. But some of it won't be. As Malaak Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, physically assaulted by Zionist goons, said, ‘the Zionists here are making people hate Jews...I was unfamiliar with the tactics of Zionists. But I got a crash course on it here.’ (JTA, April 28)
(Needless to say, Zionism wins by creating anti-semitism, so there is nothing really strange here.)
The most noted episode of the Zionist attempt to hijack issues was the UN side event organised by UN watch with a panel of two survivors of genocide from Darfur and Rwanda and a gay Muslim Indian filmmaker, Parvez Sharma. Sharma quickly understood that he was in fact being used in a racist Islamphobic event as a token gay victim of Islam. And he blew a top. Two Israeli delegates later spat on him. His account of what happened is worth reading in full. I'll cite only a few sentences that lead to the next point:
‘As the much reviled, almost made-to-be Hitlerian Mr. A. was a few minutes into his speech, the all-Caucasian EU delegations (23 members, we are told) walked out ceremoniously only a few moments after the ‘humble’ (his own term) former mayor of Tehran was pelted with red clown noses, also by Caucasian protestors. But as they made their displeasure known, delegates from African and Asian nations applauded. I wonder if a discussion of race, in terms of skin colour, and indeed, the institutionalised racism in many European nations, is even noticed by the white gentleman's club that usually represents European nations at the UN… As Mr Ahmadenijad walked into his press conference, again a motley crew of twenty-something, entirely white protesters hissed at him with quickly printed signs and hissed, stressing their sibilants: ‘Racccissst’. A British Pakistani man and I were the only two who questioned them on whether they actually had any experience of racism, manifest most simply for both of us in just getting around with our brown skins or Muslim names in most Western nations.’
The Durban Review and the Zionist organised but fully Northern supported Islamophobic hate-fest exposed the limits of a friendly and consensual global conversation on race. The white setter states boycotted the conference from the outset. The pre-planned and staged white European walk-out further dramatised the global strength of racism and its presence at the very institutes of global governance that are supposed to eradicate it. The divisions in Geneva were visibly about colour. The white Western press and punditocracy mostly couldn't notice that the majority brown people stayed in the room and applauded. When they say ‘the world’they mean Europe.
The Russian diplomat who brokered most of the Durban declaration accused the European states that walked out on Ahmadinejad of intentionally seeking to weaken the conference. In this, European states followed through with the wrecking job that was begun by the Obama administration. Professor Vernellia R. Randall describes precisely what Obama was at as he negotiated, got his way, and then still boycotted the Conference:
‘Unfortunately, the Durban Review Conference is being hijacked by governments and members of civil society, including the Obama administration, who may not have the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, especially for African and people of African descent, as their highest priority. In fact, in just the last week, in response to Obama administration ultimatum, the Durban review committee:
• withdrew language related to reparations;
• removed the proposed paragraph related to the transatlantic slave trade being a crime against humanity;
• removed proposed paragraphs designed to strengthen the Working group of experts on people of African descent; and,
• overall weakened the efforts related to people of African descent.
This is devastating.’ (Black Agenda Report)
To be sure, there is an official global consensus against racism, and this should not be minimised. It is a hard won achievement. The North participates and supports international institutions and human rights instruments. This anti-racist commitment is not completely false. Today a majority of white people do abhor crude racism and do pay at least a lip service to the elimination of racial discrimination. That is precisely why the Obama administration, the Zionists and the Europeans, in short, the white front, sought to camouflage their support for racism as ‘anti-racism’. But that commitment has limits and the Durban process exposed those limits. Reparations, redistribution, or indeed any material setback to the perpetrators and beneficiaries or racism, is beyond the pale not only in Palestine, but also in general, and certainly in the US.
The Durban Review Conference was therefore a moment of truth. Masks fell, and the major fault-line reappeared.
* This article was first published on Jews sans frontieres.
* Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer. He co-edits the blog Jews sans frontieres.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.