Commentary Magazine


The UN’s Epic Fail in Geneva

The biggest loser at the United Nations Durban Review Conference on “racism” this week in Geneva was the United Nations itself. The United States unfairly got a lot of bad press and bad marks for walking out of the first UN “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, even though that conference was little more than an anti-Semitic and anti-American hate festival. The media did a much better job this time around, though, as did the genuine anti-racist activists who showed up to protest. Those vilified by “Durban I” turned out to be the heroes of “Durban II.”

Most of the press coverage this week was appropriately critical. And few have done as outstanding a job covering the affair as Zvika Krieger in the New Republic. Every one of his dispatches from Geneva deserves a wide audience.

First he reminds us just how viciously bigoted the 2001 Durban conference was. “Jewish activists were harassed, abused, physically intimidated, taunted, and followed throughout the week,” he wrote. “Anyone who tried to object to the Israel hate-fest was booed off the stage with shouts of ‘Jew, Jew, Jew.’ The conference hall was overflowing with copies of ‘The Protocols of The Elders of Zion’ and pamphlets featuring pictures of Jews with long hooked noses and evil smiles, their serpent fangs soaked in blood and their military uniforms decorated with swastikas.”

Those singled out for the two-minute hate were vastly outnumbered by the hysterical bigots who set the tone in South Africa. This time, though, in Geneva, the bullies were on the defensive. “Unlike the scenes at Durban I,” he reported, “of Jewish students being swallowed by hordes of Israel haters, outnumbered 50-to-1, here in Geneva, I’ve witnessed dozens of debates between handfuls of pro-Israel activists evenly matched with their foes.”

Americans weren’t happy about the anti-American obscenities at “Durban I,” but at least “American” isn’t a race. Jews had even more reasons to be appalled at what happened. When the organizers of an “anti-racist” conference spend most of their energy denouncing and menacing Jews and Israelis, something has gone terribly wrong. Anti-Durban activists had years to prepare for this week’s sequel in Geneva, though, and it showed.

“It is hard to exaggerate how palpable the Jewish presence is here,” Krieger wrote. “The Jewish community of Geneva staged a massive Holocaust memorial (featuring Elie Wiesel) last night on the steps of the UN headquarters right outside the conference, and Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center are organizing panels on anti-Semitism inside the conference building under auspices of the UN. Roaming the halls of the UN building, I’ve heard way more Hebrew than Arabic. When the Jewish community’s security force prevented the Jewish students from leaving the ‘Jewish Welcome Center’ because of a minor pro-Palestinian rally outside, the students balked at the ridiculousness of any security threat against them here — a stark contrast to the physical violence encountered by Jewish students in 2001.”

The first Durban conference was an anti-Semitic zoo. Take a look at the photo of a poster, reading that it would have been a “good thing” if Adolf Hitler had won World War II because there would be “no Israel.” Switzerland may be geopolitically neutral in many ways, but Geneva was in no mood this week to tolerate that kind of garbage at a conference it hosted. Krieger says a zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitic propaganda appeared to be in place, and the small number of anti-Semitic demonstrators he did see were kicked out by security guards.

Even some of the discussions on the anti-Israel panels were tame compared with those last time, he reports. Moderate critics of Israel quite rightly suggested that accusing Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” alienates moderate supporters of Palestinians. Of course, there were plenty of immoderate haters there, too. At the end of the first day he saw a group of Iranian men slip in wearing baseball caps that read “Imam Khomeini: Israel must be wiped away.”

Iran, its incendiary president, and his goon squad, aren’t the only ones getting bad press. Libya deserves and is getting some, too. It is by far the most suffocating and oppressive country I have ever visited. Only two countries in the world – Turkmenistan and North Korea – are more thoroughly totalitarian than Libya. Every last Jew was driven out. Libya’s dictator, Moammar Qaddafi confiscated all Jewish property. Brutal suppression of the indigenous Berber population, including a ban on even the use of their language, continues apace. Yet Libya, absurdly, was elected by the United Nations to chair the preparatory committee for this week’s conference about racism and human rights. They might as well select Cuba or North Korea to head up a conference against communism while they’re at it.

A Palestinian doctor named Ashraf El Hagog took to the podium at one point. He didn’t, as many might have expected, use the opportunity to beat up on the “Zionist Entity,” as so many others in attendance have done. Instead, he lambasted Libya. Perhaps you remember his story. He was slightly famous a few years ago because he and several Bulgarian nurses were falsely accused by Qaddafi’s regime of deliberately spreading AIDS in the country. He and the Bulgarians were imprisoned and tortured for years. “It is disgusting for Libya to be the chair of a human-rights conference at the UN,” he said. “Shame on you, Libya.” Libyan ambassador Najjat Al-Hajjaji was apoplectic over Dr. Hagog’s performance, but she shouldn’t have expected him to say anything else. “While he was in prison,” Krieger wrote, “he could handle the hanging, deprivation of food and sleep, and being raped by a police dog; what finally broke him was when they ‘finally threatened to torture my family in front of me,’ he said.”

The Obama Administration was right not to legitimize this farcical conference by attending, but at the same time it’s good that others went so that we didn’t have to. Somebody needs to stand up to Libyan and Iranian thugs. They can’t do it in Tripoli or Tehran, but they can – and they did – do it in Geneva.

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