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The Durban Dilemma

The UN’s 2001 “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa has become notorious as an international celebration of anti-Semitism. The Obama administration’s decision to take part in preparatory meetings for “Durban 2″ can be viewed one of two ways:

1) This will be an anti-Semitic gathering and the U.S. should be ashamed of itself

2) This is an anti-Semitic, biased gathering. Let’s see if Obama can fix it.

Anne Bayefsky wasn’t tempted to join the forgiving camp:

Jewish leaders were also told that the U.S. presence was “an effort to change the direction of the conference.” Apparently, someone in the administration forgot to read the map. The conference objectives have already been unanimously agreed to by all participants, including the European Union. Objective number one is to “foster the implementation of the Durban Declaration” – the same one that claims Israelis are racists, in fact, the only racists U.N. member states could recall. Those directions aren’t going to be changed. On the contrary, the opening words of the Durban II document – also already accepted by consensus – read “reaffirming the Durban Declaration.” Change you can’t believe in, again.

As I wrote here a couple of months ago, some within the Israeli government initially understood Obama’s interest in Durban 2. However, most Israeli officials involved are quite pessimistic. The dialogue between the two countries on this issue will come down to this: what would characterize success and make U.S. participation acceptable to those who think America is morally compromising itself. And under what circumstances, if any, would the U.S. be willing to reconsider its decision not to abandon this forum.

My worry is this: Israel should be very careful not to be perceived as an obstacle on America’s road to world acceptability. Unless public opinion is mobilized against this distorted version of a human rights forum by other (namely, non-Jewish) leaders concerned about human rights, dramatic Israeli objection will have unfortunate consequences — either because Obama will choose to take part and give credence to the conference or because the enemies of Israel will be able to argue that by lobbying against Durban it has damaged American interests.


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