Belmont Club

Red light, green light

The WSJ asks whether the Obama administration, having agreed to participating in the preparations for the Durban Conference, otherwise known as the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, will attend the Conference itself. The previous conference, held in 2001, was criticized for attempting to equate Zionism with racism. These controversies ultimately led to the withdrawal of the US and Israeli delegations. As a consequence of this kerfuffle, the 2001 Durban Conference maintained its general tone but modified the final language into something less confrontational. Wikipedia notes:

In the end, the Conference delegates voted to reject the language that implicitly accused Israel of racism, and the document actually published contained no such language.

Several countries were unhappy with the final text’s approach to the subject, but all for different reasons. Syria and Iran were unhappy because their demands for the language about racism and Israel had been rejected by the Conference, the latter continuing its insistence that Israel was a racist state. Australia was unhappy with the process, observing that “far too much of the time at the conference [had been] consumed by bitter divisive exchanges on issues which have done nothing to advance the cause of combating racism”. Canada was also unhappy.[10]

The language of the final text was carefully drafted for balance. The word “diaspora” is used four times, and solely to refer to the African Diaspora. The document is at pains to main a cohesive identity for everyone of African heritage as a victim of slavery, even including those who may have more European than African ancestors. The “victim” or “victims” of racism and slavery (the two words occurring 90 times in the document) are defined in only the most general geographic terms.

Given this background, it was inevitable that Durban II would generate even more controversy. Reuters reported that the Obama administration had decided it would play, although the extent to which it would participate remained nebulous.

WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) – In a break from Bush administration policy, the United States is participating in planning sessions for a U.N. conference on racism despite concerns the meeting will be used to criticize Israel. … “If you are not engaged, you don’t have a voice,” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said on Tuesday.

“We wanted to put forward our view and see if there is some way we can make the document a better document than it appears it is going to be,” he said. “That does not mean, however, that we will take part in future meetings or indeed in the conference itself.”

The State Department will have its work cut for it if it wants to change Durban II’s thrust. The WSJ describes exactly what it intends to achieve:

As for what this Review Conference is supposed to achieve, some clues are provided in the latest draft of the so-called Outcome Document. Israel’s “racial policies” are a major theme, as is “the plight of Palestinian refugees and other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories,” meaning Israel itself. Under debate, however, is whether to include a line that the Holocaust “resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people.” Presumably Iran objects.

The draft also calls “on states to develop, and where appropriate to incorporate, permissible limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression into national legislation.” Yes, you read that right. The transparent purpose is to criminalize all criticism of Islam, a.k.a. “Islamophobia.” There is also a not-so-sly effort to extract reparations for the long-banned trans-Atlantic slave trade: States that “have not yet condemned, apologized and paid reparations” for the trade are urged “to do so at the earliest.”

What happens next bears close watching. Perhaps the biggest problem the US has to overcome is that the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” is, as constituted, a malign project.  Despite the Australian and Canadian participation, the general direction of the Conference has not changed. If anything it has gotten worse. By participating, the US puts itself in the position of a man entering a casino determined not to gamble; or a person visiting a saloon to prove he can order a glass of milk; or perhaps that of an individual who enters a house of ill-repute in order to convince the inmates to amend their ways.  It may happen, but there’s a saying in these cases: the House Always Wins. If you are opposed an activity on principle, don’t accept simply quibble on the details. Unless of course, the problem lies only in the details.