Whether to boycott Durban II — the United Nations racist conference on racism — is one of the early foreign-policy tests President Obama faces. Also known as the Durban Review Conference, this UN gathering, scheduled for April 20-24 in Geneva, has been taking shape as a virulent reprise of the UN’s infamous September, 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. That original Durban conference was supposed to fight racism. Instead, it turned into such a malicious attack on Israel that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, making the correct call, ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out.
Since 2007, the UN has been preparing for Durban II. Operating under the umbrella of the UN’s Human Rights Council (a deeply compromised body that spends most of its time condemning Israel), the 20-member preparatory committee has been stacked from the start: It is chaired by Libya, and includes Iran (which hosted one of the preparatory meetings for Durban I), Cuba, Russia and (speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) Pakistan.
Both the debate and the drafting of an “outcome document” for the conference have displayed the same obsession with attacking Israel that turned Durban I into one of the UN’s more memorably ugly events. The Durban II agenda also includes a bid for global censorship by way of gagging any discussion, worldwide, that might offend the sensitivities of such Islamic tyrannies as Libya and Iran. Plenty of appalling documentation is available in videos of the debate such as this, or this, from Geneva-based UN Watch , and a rich collection of materials assembled by Eye On the UN.
The Bush administration declined to dignify the preparations for Durban II by taking part, but did not declare an outright U.S. boycott of the conference itself — thus kicking the can down the road to Obama.
Questions to the Obama administration have now elicited the information that this week the State Department is sending a delegation to “engage” in preparatory negotiations from Feb. 16-19 for Durban II. According to a U.S. official, this U.S. delegation will include Betty King (who served under the Clinton administration as a U.S. representative to the UN’s Economic and Social Council) and Felice Gaer (of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the American Jewish Committee).
While preparing to “engage” in Durban II preparations, the State Department put out a statement this past weekend that: “Our participation does not indicate — and should not be construed to indicate — that the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself.” That decision will be made “at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process.”
To salvage Durban II from its own sordid origins and bigoted agenda would require the U.S. delegation finding a way to permanently and securely delete the fixation on attacking Israel, utterly scrap the bid for global censorship, and remove any control of the agenda from such tyrannies as Libya and Iran.
Don’t hold your breath.
When Hillary Clinton was running for president last year, she issued a statement on Durban II, saying that under her leadership, the U.S.
“would lead a boycott of the conference should current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail. We must not accept, condone or participate in a conference that can be hijacked by an agenda of hatred, and we must work strenuously to ensure that our friends do not do so either.”
Now Clinton is Secretary of State, handling the UN portfolio for Obama. And with Durban II just two months ahead, and the forces of hatred clearly on a roll toward that April meeting in Geneva, the U.S. is not so far leading any boycott. Instead, State is sending delegates to engage. As a sign of how Obama plans to address global bigotry and hatred, this is not auspicious.