Durban II and Obama's Foreign Policy Mantra

The Obama administration promised transparency. It seems only fitting, therefore, to release a transcript (produced unofficially) of a conference call between Karen Stewart -- acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor -- and a group of highly select organizations, which took place on February 27, 2009. On the phone line with this top State Department official was a small cabal of human rights organizations, UN-associated organizations, and an Arab NGO. At stake -- U.S. participation in April's UN's Durban II "anti-racism" conference and the UN Human Rights Council. The conversation reveals which groups the administration is trying to please and what would please them. It also points to the devastating impact that can be expected from the Obama foreign policy mantra of "engagement." Now on the chopping block -- Israel, equality rights, and American values.

The Background of Durban II

Durban I is the infamous racist anti-racism conference that took place in South Africa and ended three days before 9/11. Durban II is the UN's effort to launch another round of anti-Semitism via its unique global megaphone. It is also the vehicle for Islamic states to change permanently the world of human rights: the point is to move from protecting rights and freedoms to curtailing them in the name of so-called religious sensitivities.

At the time of the conference call everyone knew that the draft declaration on the table (scheduled to be adopted at the conference itself) called Jewish self-determination racist, Israel an apartheid state, questioned the veracity of the Holocaust, introduced limits on free speech, and manufactured worldwide Muslim victims of Western racism (known as "Islamophobia.")

The chair of the drafting committee for Durban II is Libya; Iran is a vice-chair and Cuba is the rapporteur.

Even without the new abominations, the purpose of Durban II is to reaffirm and to implement the Durban I Declaration. But that declaration says Israelis are racists -- the only racist country that UN "human rights" authorities could identify. So fixing Durban II is not possible. Protecting human rights would require burying Durban I, not reaffirming and implementing it.

The Background of the UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the UN's lead human rights agency. It was created after the previous incarnation, the ignominious Human Rights Commission, was disbanded in 2006. The UN creators of the Human Rights Council rejected an American idea of instituting a membership condition about actually protecting human rights. So the Bush administration saw no reason to join or to pay for it.

At the time of this conference call everyone knew that the Human Rights Council has proved to be more extreme than its predecessor. It has reduced the influence of democracies and shifted the balance of power to the Islamic bloc. As a consequence, it has had 10 regular sessions on human rights all over the world and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. It has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all of the other 191 UN states combined. It has one standing agenda item on alleged Israeli violations and one standing item on general human rights issues for everybody else. It has terminated human rights investigations, left over from the Human Rights Commission, on some of the worst places on the planet: Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Uzbekistan. It trashed its only resolution on freedom of expression, forcing every Western state to withdraw support from this democratic lifeline.

Durban II and the Human Rights Council are intertwined. The council is the preparatory committee for Durban II and has pushed it from the beginning. Elections for membership on the council take place in May of this year, only a few weeks after Durban II ends. Refusing to legitimize Durban II may hurt a state's chances of election to the council. Furthermore, if the only foreign policy mantra the Obama administration can think of is "engagement," there doesn't appear to be anything that ought to prevent the U.S. from jumping on board everything in sight -- Durban II and the Council -- substance be damned. However, the UN is required to undertake a five-year review of Council operations in 2011. By staying out until that time, the United States would be in a position to leverage its potential membership -- and the instant credibility of the participation of the world's greatest democracy -- in exchange for reform. U.S. membership should be earned.

The Jewish Problem

The 2001 Durban I was divided into an NGO Forum and a governmental conference. The NGOs adopted a declaration, which said Zionism is racism and got worse from there. An NGO meeting on anti-Semitism that had been planned for months was disrupted and cut short by a screaming mob. The international NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now called Human Rights First), decided not to vote against the NGO declaration. They also decided not to vote when a suggestion by Jewish groups concerning anti-Semitism was deleted from that same declaration. The world's leading international NGOs thought there was a midway point between espousing anti-Semitism and denouncing it.

Overall, the hundreds of participating NGOs either agreed outright with the anti-Semitism or believed that the discrimination and demonization of the Jewish state was the price to be paid for getting their own equality issues on the agenda. They never understood that equality rights for some cannot be built on the inequality of others, that anti-Semitism poisons the human rights wellspring, and that intolerance that begins with Jews does not end with Jews.

Although UN officials -- most notably the current High Commissioner for Human Rights -- claim that only the NGO Forum was problematic, this is not true. Attending both, I watched almost every mention of anti-Semitism deleted from the government draft declaration and witnessed the objectionable bargain that was ultimately reached. After the United States and Israel walked out of Durban I in disgust, the European Union -- led by the French -- cut a deal. The result allowed a few mentions of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of the Holocaust, in exchange for casting Israel as racist. Canada joined consensus on most of the document, but made a strong reservation to the Israel-related sections. However, every copy of the Durban Declaration produced by the UN since that time omits the Canadian reservation and claims all of Durban was adopted by consensus.

After Durban, the UN engaged in a major cover-up. For more than seven years, they made the Durban Declaration the centerpiece of the UN's anti-racism movement and spawned multiple Durban "follow-up" activities. They blamed NGOs for all that had gone wrong. They claimed the government conference was a model of civility and the Durban Declaration a human rights godsend.


The same forces present at Durban I are still operating. The Islamic bloc and Arab interests intend to use the global conference as a means to demonize and destroy their enemy on the political battlefield. Human rights organizations are prepared to throw Jews overboard while protecting other people's human rights. The European Union is looking for a way to be the kingpin on the global stage. The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is claiming Durban I got a bad rap and recently made the ugly suggestion of a Jewish conspiracy lurking behind criticism of Durban II.

The behavior of Pillay tells us a lot about the nature of the UN machine and how it pushes anti-Semitism as human rights. Pillay has a vested interest in ensuring the "success" of Durban II. She is the secretary-general of the conference. She is also a native of Durban, South Africa, and when she was appointed last July said the mayor asked her to "rescue" the city's good name. Rather than admitting the past and seeking to avoid its repetition, Pillay has taken on the job of revisionism with a vengeance:

I am fully aware that the legacy of the 2001 Durban Conference has been tainted by the anti-Semitic behavior of some NGOs at the sidelines of that conference. ... [T]he Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the document that emerged from the conference in 2001, transcended divisive and intolerant approaches.

She has also deliberately sought to repeat exactly what went wrong. Asked by the Durban II drafting committee to recommend suggestions for inclusion in the final declaration, she contributed: "We must reaffirm the DDPA [Durban Declaration and Programme of Action] without reservation."

Pillay finds fault not with Durban I and its Declaration and Durban II and its draft declaration -- but with the critics. More specifically, Jewish critics. On February 20, 2009, she said:

[T]he review conference has also been the target of a disparaging media and lobbying campaign on the part of those who fear a repetition of anti-Semitic outbursts. This is unwarranted. ... Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good.

Those narrow-minded Jews uninterested in the common good -- who have actually been at the forefront of human rights movements the world over and have six million good reasons for being concerned about demonization -- might be surprised to learn of how the UN's leading spokesperson for human rights ended this speech. Pillay said: "Let me reiterate that -- sustained by the United Nations principles of impartiality, independence, and integrity --I regard my office as a springboard for the betterment and welfare of all and a place where all are given a fair audience." Well, not quite all.

So where does all this leave President Obama and the United States? Taking advice from those who, like the UN's top human rights officer, advocate throwing Israel and Jews who support Israel under the bus for the sake of the greater good. In some cases, exactly the same organizations that distinguished themselves at Durban I by refusing to vote against "Zionism is racism."