Commentary Magazine


Topic: Durban

State Dept: Turkey’s Report on Flotilla ‘Independent and Credible’

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission. Read More

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission.

What we do know is that the Israeli investigation was headed by a former Supreme Court justice and supervised by foreign observers, while Ankara’s commission was an internal government investigation closed to observers. So not so much with the independence either.

Of course, the U.S. government has an obligation to maintain ties with NATO member Turkey. We’ve got nukes there, among other interests. But Turkey’s report is going to be cited to formally condemn Israel in international forums, just like the Goldstone Report is still being cited in ostensibly binding resolutions. Turkey is already trying to mainstream its lies from the other direction, in the form of a vicious anti-Jewish film of the kind not seen on the Continent since the 1940s. The cross-pollination between anti-Semitic venom and international “findings” is a real one — Durban I and II have proved as much — and the Turkish claim is not a “contradictory point of view” or a “valid perspective.” It’s a blood libel.

Eventually, the U.S. will have to decide whether it wants to stop anti-Semitic invective of the kind found in the Turkish report from becoming an international resolution. If it does, U.S. diplomats will need to state the truth, as demonstrated by everything from videos to Turkish journalists on the Mavi Marmara: terrorist supporters backed by the Turkish government attempted to break a legal blockade imposed on a terrorist group seeking a UN member’s annihilation, and those terrorists’ supporters ambushed troops who attempted to nonviolently intercept them. U.S. diplomats will also have to insist that implying otherwise is simply untenable.

Saying the opposite now, even in an attempt to kick the can down the road, will make that task awkward.

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An Internet Divided

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board. Read More

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board.

I do not believe American citizens and others who prize freedom of expression will watch passively as such clamps are applied to the Internet. But in a practical sense, it may be much easier to start an alternative Internet — or a set of them — than to reclaim the U.S. leadership relinquished last year by President Obama. The technology certainly exists to do so. If domain names and Web content are indeed censored by an ICANN voting bloc, the concept of a truly alternative Internet will be increasingly obvious.

The associated national-policy issues are certainly interesting to speculate about. But of greater significance would be the suspension of the global-information idea. That idea always required unified leadership — and to some extent an arbitrary policy posture — if it was to retain any liberal characteristics. Administered instead by a council of coequal voters with conflicting concepts of information and intellectual freedom, the global-information idea cannot remain liberal.

Western flight from a censored Internet might well portend a hardening of global divisions based on incompatible views of reality. The echoes of the Cold War — and, indeed, of the 1930s — are unmistakable. I have no doubt that the citizens of the West can keep an intellectually free Internet available, nor do I doubt that the world’s peoples would prefer access to it over a censored Internet. Ultimately, any Arab-states takeover of ICANN is more likely to discourage current globalization trends than to confer on the Arab League a position of unchallenged informational power. But that unplanned consequence is a silver lining in what promises to be a dark cloud on the Internet’s horizon. There are policy battles ahead that will affect all of us.

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Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

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Here’s How Congress Could Help

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of ”smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of ”smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

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Why Obama Won’t Be Going to Israel

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

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Ontario Defies Israel Apartheid Week

This week is Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses worldwide — an annual hatefest devoted to demonizing Israel and mobilizing support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), made even more grotesque by the numerous Israelis serving as featured speakers. But this year, pushback came from a surprising direction: the provincial legislature of Ontario, Canada, voted unanimously to condemn this extravaganza, because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Two things make this decision remarkable. One is that Ontario has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. For instance, its largest labor union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, enthusiastically promotes BDS; in 2006, the chapter voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return,” otherwise known as committing demographic suicide. Thus Ontario legislators defied a powerhouse vote machine over an issue with little political traction, just because they thought it was right.

The second is that not long ago, Canada’s foreign policy was hostile to Israel. In October 2000, for instance, days after the intifada erupted, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians. And that vote was typical, not exceptional. Thus the Ontario decision represents a sharp turnabout in a fairly short period of time.

The man primarily responsible for the change is undoubtedly Canada’s Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who has turned his country into one of Israel’s most reliable supporters. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole “no” vote on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council (for example, a January 2009 resolution condemning Israel’s war in Gaza); Canada became the first country — even before Israel — to announce a boycott of last year’s Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel tone; and Harper has worked to end Canadian government support for nongovernmental organizations that demonize Israel. In short, he has made it respectable to publicly support Israel in Canada. So it’s unsurprising that the legislator who introduced Ontario’s anti–Apartheid Week resolution belonged to Harper’s party.

But Harper’s revolution alone cannot explain the Ontario vote. The Conservatives have only 24 seats in Ontario’s parliament; the rival Liberal Party, which has no reason to toe Harper’s line, has 71. Yet Liberals who, as one noted, normally disagree with Conservatives over almost everything united with them on this. It’s worth reading the debate in full to appreciate the depth and breadth of the legislators’ support.

The obvious conclusion is that Israel’s case can be persuasive to people of goodwill of all political stripes — if Israel and its supporters bother to make it. Activists in Ontario clearly have, creating fertile soil for Harper’s moves; last week’s assembly vote was the fruit. It’s a lesson pro-Israel activists facing uphill battles elsewhere should remember. For not long ago, Canada, too, seemed lost.

This week is Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses worldwide — an annual hatefest devoted to demonizing Israel and mobilizing support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), made even more grotesque by the numerous Israelis serving as featured speakers. But this year, pushback came from a surprising direction: the provincial legislature of Ontario, Canada, voted unanimously to condemn this extravaganza, because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Two things make this decision remarkable. One is that Ontario has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. For instance, its largest labor union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, enthusiastically promotes BDS; in 2006, the chapter voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return,” otherwise known as committing demographic suicide. Thus Ontario legislators defied a powerhouse vote machine over an issue with little political traction, just because they thought it was right.

The second is that not long ago, Canada’s foreign policy was hostile to Israel. In October 2000, for instance, days after the intifada erupted, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians. And that vote was typical, not exceptional. Thus the Ontario decision represents a sharp turnabout in a fairly short period of time.

The man primarily responsible for the change is undoubtedly Canada’s Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who has turned his country into one of Israel’s most reliable supporters. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole “no” vote on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council (for example, a January 2009 resolution condemning Israel’s war in Gaza); Canada became the first country — even before Israel — to announce a boycott of last year’s Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel tone; and Harper has worked to end Canadian government support for nongovernmental organizations that demonize Israel. In short, he has made it respectable to publicly support Israel in Canada. So it’s unsurprising that the legislator who introduced Ontario’s anti–Apartheid Week resolution belonged to Harper’s party.

But Harper’s revolution alone cannot explain the Ontario vote. The Conservatives have only 24 seats in Ontario’s parliament; the rival Liberal Party, which has no reason to toe Harper’s line, has 71. Yet Liberals who, as one noted, normally disagree with Conservatives over almost everything united with them on this. It’s worth reading the debate in full to appreciate the depth and breadth of the legislators’ support.

The obvious conclusion is that Israel’s case can be persuasive to people of goodwill of all political stripes — if Israel and its supporters bother to make it. Activists in Ontario clearly have, creating fertile soil for Harper’s moves; last week’s assembly vote was the fruit. It’s a lesson pro-Israel activists facing uphill battles elsewhere should remember. For not long ago, Canada, too, seemed lost.

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Learning from Longshoremen

On Friday, the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese ship carrying arms bound for Zimbabwe, left the port of Durban. Earlier, a high court refused to allow the weapons to be transported across South African soil.

The decision capped a surprising turn of events. On Thursday, Themba Maseko, a spokesman for Pretoria, said that his country would not stop the shipment as long as formalities had been completed. Dockers of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, however, refused to unload the cargo, fearing that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe might use the weapons against his opponents, who are locked in a post-election standoff with him. Mugabe appears to have lost his post in the March 29 presidential election but is unwilling to step aside.

“This vessel must return to China with the arms on board,” the union said in a statement. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely. The rust bucket is headed for Luanda, where the weapons will be unloaded for a long overland trek to Zimbabwe. So the workers have won only a symbolic victory.

Yet symbolism matters, especially to autocrats. South African workers apparently know that. “How positive it is that ordinary dockers have refused to allow that boat to go further,” said Mary Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights. Mary, you’re right, of course. But let’s not call these South Africans “ordinary.” They have done more to stop Chinese autocrats from aiding Mugabe than their own leader, Thabo Mbeki–and than the most powerful individual on earth, President George W. Bush.

As Robinson said, the Durban port workers tried to stop something they believed was wrong. Perhaps the American people should ask their leader to go to South Africa so he can learn a thing or two from the longshoremen in Durban.

On Friday, the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese ship carrying arms bound for Zimbabwe, left the port of Durban. Earlier, a high court refused to allow the weapons to be transported across South African soil.

The decision capped a surprising turn of events. On Thursday, Themba Maseko, a spokesman for Pretoria, said that his country would not stop the shipment as long as formalities had been completed. Dockers of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, however, refused to unload the cargo, fearing that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe might use the weapons against his opponents, who are locked in a post-election standoff with him. Mugabe appears to have lost his post in the March 29 presidential election but is unwilling to step aside.

“This vessel must return to China with the arms on board,” the union said in a statement. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely. The rust bucket is headed for Luanda, where the weapons will be unloaded for a long overland trek to Zimbabwe. So the workers have won only a symbolic victory.

Yet symbolism matters, especially to autocrats. South African workers apparently know that. “How positive it is that ordinary dockers have refused to allow that boat to go further,” said Mary Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights. Mary, you’re right, of course. But let’s not call these South Africans “ordinary.” They have done more to stop Chinese autocrats from aiding Mugabe than their own leader, Thabo Mbeki–and than the most powerful individual on earth, President George W. Bush.

As Robinson said, the Durban port workers tried to stop something they believed was wrong. Perhaps the American people should ask their leader to go to South Africa so he can learn a thing or two from the longshoremen in Durban.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Judeophile

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

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The Return of Durban

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who apparently doesn’t have greater problems to deal with, has announced that his country will host the follow-up session to the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This conference, of course, was infamous for its near-instantaneous descent into anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. How a United Nations conference could ever combat something as nebulous as “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” is an open question. The U.N. has repeatedly proven itself rather adept at promoting bigotry itself (see its infamous resolution condemning Zionism as racism), and has repeatedly shied away from protecting people from violent racists, whether it be Darfurians attacked by the Arab government in Khartoum or white farmers evicted from their land in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Tony Leon, the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party and now its spokesman on foreign affairs, warned that the conference would once again serve as a front for anti-Semitism:

“The question then arises how South Africa hopes to steer the conference in a direction of balance and probity, rather than leading it to degenerate again into a hate fest of intolerance and imprudence.”

He added that the South African taxpayer forked out R100-million for the last World Conference against Racism. “The results have been dismal and in terms of the advancement of the real fight against racism, almost non-existent.”

He asked: “Are we again going to witness, host and pay for a slanted, sectional and sectarian conference, or will we use our best endeavours and our foreign policy credentials to steer it in the right direction?”

Secretary Rice has already announced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will not partake in the conference if it “deteriorates into the kind of conference that Durban I was.” Canada has already bowed out of the conference irrespective of whatever makes it onto the agenda.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who apparently doesn’t have greater problems to deal with, has announced that his country will host the follow-up session to the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This conference, of course, was infamous for its near-instantaneous descent into anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. How a United Nations conference could ever combat something as nebulous as “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” is an open question. The U.N. has repeatedly proven itself rather adept at promoting bigotry itself (see its infamous resolution condemning Zionism as racism), and has repeatedly shied away from protecting people from violent racists, whether it be Darfurians attacked by the Arab government in Khartoum or white farmers evicted from their land in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Tony Leon, the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party and now its spokesman on foreign affairs, warned that the conference would once again serve as a front for anti-Semitism:

“The question then arises how South Africa hopes to steer the conference in a direction of balance and probity, rather than leading it to degenerate again into a hate fest of intolerance and imprudence.”

He added that the South African taxpayer forked out R100-million for the last World Conference against Racism. “The results have been dismal and in terms of the advancement of the real fight against racism, almost non-existent.”

He asked: “Are we again going to witness, host and pay for a slanted, sectional and sectarian conference, or will we use our best endeavours and our foreign policy credentials to steer it in the right direction?”

Secretary Rice has already announced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will not partake in the conference if it “deteriorates into the kind of conference that Durban I was.” Canada has already bowed out of the conference irrespective of whatever makes it onto the agenda.

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Durban Blues

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

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Don’t Blame Canada

Hats off to Canada, which has announced it is pulling out of next year’s UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. The last such conference, held in 2001, deteriorated into venomous Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, causing the U.S. and Israel to walk out in protest. That conference was a “circus of intolerance,” says Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Candian identity, Jason Kenney. ”Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,” he said. ”We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.”

What could make Canada think the organizers have not learned from their past errors? Perhaps it is the fact that Libya is chairing it. Or that Cuba is vice-chair. Maybe the presence of Iran on the organizing committee gave them the creeps? Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said that the Canadians “had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 . . . conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. Despite our efforts, we have concluded that it will not. Canada will therefore not participate.”

This kind of clear thinking and refusal to bend to diplomatic nicety is a rare thing in the international arena. Let’s hope that American and European leaders will have the sense to follow suit, and we can finally put the Durban fiasco to bed.

Hats off to Canada, which has announced it is pulling out of next year’s UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. The last such conference, held in 2001, deteriorated into venomous Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, causing the U.S. and Israel to walk out in protest. That conference was a “circus of intolerance,” says Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Candian identity, Jason Kenney. ”Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,” he said. ”We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.”

What could make Canada think the organizers have not learned from their past errors? Perhaps it is the fact that Libya is chairing it. Or that Cuba is vice-chair. Maybe the presence of Iran on the organizing committee gave them the creeps? Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said that the Canadians “had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 . . . conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. Despite our efforts, we have concluded that it will not. Canada will therefore not participate.”

This kind of clear thinking and refusal to bend to diplomatic nicety is a rare thing in the international arena. Let’s hope that American and European leaders will have the sense to follow suit, and we can finally put the Durban fiasco to bed.

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