Marked by boycotts, walkouts, an attack on Israel by Iran’s president and a premature concluding resolution, it was another U.N. anti-racism conference dominated by the Middle East conflict.
With some concern that such events might overtake the conference, participating countries passed Durban II’s final resolution three days early, heralding “a new beginning” in the global campaign against “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
But for pro-Israel and some human rights groups, the sense of a new beginning was less clear.
On the one hand, the conference’s resolution enshrined the most divisive element of the original 2001 Durban Declaration Program of Action: Under “victims of racism,” it again cited the Palestinians — implying, many say, Israeli racism.
On the other hand, 10 countries boycotted the conference, including the Czech Republic, which walked out in the middle; the conference’s final resolution adopted no new language singling out Israel; European countries took a strong stand against anti-Israel invective by walking out during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s diatribe against the Jewish state from the U.N. podium; and pro-Israel groups’ persistent efforts to contextualize and, to some extent, discredit the conference drew wide attention and debate.
“This was the least toxic outcome from such a conference in three decades,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said of the conference’s final document.
Neuer credited the Europeans for sticking to red lines that ensured Israel would not be singled out again.
For their part, pro-Israel groups came in much larger numbers than at Durban I, where Jews were overwhelmed by a pro-Palestinian presence. Some 360 Jewish students were accredited, roughly one-third of all the activists accredited, and they advocated on Israel’s behalf throughout the week.
Jewish groups hosted or participated in daily pro-Israel or pro-human rights events outside the U.N. grounds, organized anti-discrimination panels inside the United Nations and brought in some of the heaviest hitters in pro-Israel advocacy: Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, attorney Alan Dershowitz, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, actor Jon Voight and Father Patrick Desbois, among others.