Some might seek to minimize Mary Robinson’s role in the Durban debacle. The late Tom Lantos was intimately involved in the negotiations and attended the ill-fated conference. In the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs in the spring of 2002, he wrote:
To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.
Indeed, she obstructed efforts to prevent the conference from devolving into an Israel-bashing event. Lantos explains:
Mrs. Robinson’s intervention with the assembled delegates later in the . . . day left our delegation deeply shocked and saddened. In her remarks, she advocated precisely the opposite course to the one Secretary Powell and I had urged her to take. Namely, she refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East.
Instead, she discussed “the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and … the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.” Thus, instead of condemning the attempt to usurp the conference, she legitimized it. Instead of insisting that it was inappropriate to discuss a specific political conflict in the context of a World Conference on Racism, she spoke of the “need to resolve protracted conflict and occupation, claims of inequality, violence and terrorism, and a deteriorating situation on the ground.” Robinson was prepared to delve into the arcana of a single territorial conflict at the exclusion of all others and at the expense of the conference’s greater goals.
(My, doesn’t that view sound eerily similar to Obama’s Cairo remarks.) Again and again, as Lantos documented, Robinson intervened to thwart efforts to curb the Palestinian propaganda show (“Robinson’s intervention broke all momentum that the U.S. had developed.”) He concludes: “It was clear to me that Mrs. Robinson’s intervention during the Geneva talks represented the coup d’ grace on efforts to save the conference from disaster.”
Well, that’s the woman the president chose to honor. Apparently, she is a model for us all. It is, to say the least, a disturbing insight into the priorities and sympathies of our president.