Commentary Magazine


Obama and Durban

Claudia Rosett wrote a sensible article about the coming Durban-2 summit in Forbes. For those unfamiliar with Durban-1, or the idea of Durban, what we’re talking about here is an infamous 2001 anti-racism-turned-anti-Israel UN conference, soon to be reconvened:

[T]he U.N.’s Orwellian twist, once again, is that this conference is configured not to end racism, but to stir up hatred. In a series of preparatory meetings over the past 16 months, the organizers have already taken aim at Israel as their prime target. Increasingly, the organizers are also priming the conference for a broader attack on other democratic nations, especially the U.S. Some are pushing for a U.N.-backed gag order that would enlist Islamic anti-blasphemy laws to stifle free speech worldwide.

Rosett is also right to identify Durban as an early foreign policy test for the new Obama administration:

Durban II is not solely a mob move against Israel. It is a dishonor to real heroes of the war on prejudice, such as Martin Luther King. It is an assault on the genuine tolerance of free societies. It is an attempt to commandeer the U.N.–yet again–as a vehicle for the kind of hate that leads to such horrors as the slaughter in Mumbai, or for that matter, Sept. 11. Among the U.N.’s 192 member states, only two have had the backbone to announce that they will boycott the Durban Review: Canada, and for obvious reasons, Israel. In the U.S., President Bush has deferred any final decision to the next administration. President-elect Obama, what will you do about Durban II?

Having made some rounds in the last couple of days, I can tell you this: Israeli officials, while acknowledging that what Obama faces here is a very tricky situation–the new internationalist American President might find it difficult to start his term with the boycotting of a UN sponsored summit–also think of it as a test. Of course, there’s still time, and the U.S. can try, as it did in the past, to pressure Durban’s organizers into crafting a more acceptable, less biased agenda. But even a new agenda will have to be some compromise–and the extent to which the Obama administration will be willing to compromise in order to participate in this dispensable event can serve as an indication from which to learn more about the new team in power. We know very little about the way this man is going to rule, one Israeli official has told me. Durban will give us some early sense of his real priorities.

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