‘Apartheid’ Israel, Islamophobia on the Agenda for U.N. Racism Meeting
Most glaringly, the draft text declares that Israeli policies and practices in territories claimed by the Palestinians constitute “a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity [and] a form of genocide.”
Critics of the U.N. process are urging European governments in particular to announce that they will boycott the conference that some are calling “Durban II.” It is planned for five days next April in Geneva. Earlier this year Canada and Israel said they would not take part.
The United States voiced disquiet and has not taken part in preparatory meetings, but has made no announcement about attending or not. A senior State Department official told lawmakers early this year it would be the next administration’s decision.
The 2009 conference aims to review the progress made since the U.N. World Conference on Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa in 2001, which critics said was so focused on Israel that other issues of serious racial discrimination around the globe were all but ignored.
Despite the controversy that dogged that event, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is once again looming, while another topic promising to make waves at the event is “defamation” of religion – primarily Islam.
Both are being promoted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the bloc of Islamic states that accounts for one-third of the members of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, the body overseeing preparations for the racism conference.
A 20-country preparatory committee is chaired by Libya, and members include Iran and Pakistan.
The Bush administration has sat out of the Human Rights Council since its establishment in 2006, accusing it of disproportionately targeting Israel and of protecting rights-violating regimes. But the Obama administration is expected to seek membership next May.
Anne Bayefsky of Eye on the U.N., a project of the Hudson Institute, believes the next administration probably will also decide to attend the racism conference.
“President-elect Obama has a grossly naive attitude towards the U.N. and its ability to foster American interests,” she said Tuesday.
“He is therefore likely to want to run for election to the morally bankrupt U.N. Human Rights Council, and participation at Durban II will be a means of pandering for votes for the Council election which will take place shortly thereafter.”
Bayefsky highlighted four main areas of concern in the latest version of a draft “outcome document,” being prepared for the conference next spring.
She identified them as “the demonization of Israel,” attacks on freedom of expression, attempts to thwart counterterrorism measures, and “alleged discrimination against Muslims.”
Israel attacked, other situations ignored
On Israel, the clearest attack is the one labeling its policies “a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide and a serious threat to international peace and security.”
A number of further references are made to the “plight of the Palestinian people,” and Israel is accused of “unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction on movement and arbitrary closure of [Palestinian] territories.”
The document “expresses deep regret the practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinians … and renew[s] the call for the cessation of all the practices of racial discrimination to which the Palestinians and the other inhabitants of the Arab territories occupied by Israel are subjected.”
And it asserts that Israel’s administration of Jerusalem and its sacred sites also entails “racial practices.”
Meanwhile other conflict situations around the world – including those where race is arguably a major element, such as Darfur – do not feature in the text.
This year, more than 1,100 people were killed in post-election violence in Kenya that largely pitted tribe against tribe. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo this month, a rebel Tutsi leader says he is fighting to protect his people from Hutus – the tribe notorious for the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The Great Lakes region has been torn for years by violence with a strong ethnic character.
Although the key U.N. racism instrument – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – does not differentiate between discrimination based on color and discrimination based on ethnicity, neither the Kenyan nor the DRC situations are touched on in the draft racism conference “outcome document.”
‘Binding standards needed on Islamophobia’
One area that does feature strongly in the document is that of religious “defamation” – a phenomenon proponents say primarily targets Muslims and has grown significantly since 9/11.
“The most serious manifestations of defamation of religions are the increase in Islamophobia and the worsening of the situation of Muslim minorities around the world,” say the drafters.
Three elements are noted – the association of Islam and Muslims with terrorism; restrictions on symbols of Islam such as the construction of mosques and minarets; and the monitoring and surveillance of Islamic places of worship, culture and teaching.
The drafters say Durban II “must look into this contemporary manifestation of racism and seek proscription of this practice through legal and administrative measures. As the existing national laws and courts have failed to address the issue, internationally binding normative standards need to be devised.”
Because national laws “cannot deal with the rising tide of defamation and hatred against Muslims,” the document says, a single, universal document is needed.
This is in line with the OIC’s ongoing campaigning at the U.N. for religious defamation to be outlawed – a move opponents say is designed not to protect Muslims but to protect Islam from scrutiny and criticism. A petition organized by the American Center for Law and Justice, urging U.N. officials to block the OIC move, has been signed by more than 91,000 people.
Those concerns will be strengthened by another reference in the draft document: governments are urged “to take necessary measures against incitement” in the media, including the Internet.
Countries should “take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols,” it says, citing ”offensive caricatures” and “hate documentaries.”
A related concern of the drafters is what they refer to as “the potentially discriminatory effects of legislation and practices to combat terrorism.”
States are urged to ensure that their anti-terror policies “do not discriminate in purpose or effect on grounds of race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin as well as on the grounds of culture, religion and language and that non-citizens are not subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or stereotyping.”
Other likely contentious issues include a proposal to set affirmative action quotas for national parliaments; and reparation for “victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Although neither the U.S. nor Canada are taking part in the planning process for Durban II, three members of the European Union – Belgium, Estonia and Greece – are members of the 20-country preparatory committee.
France currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, and critics of the U.N. process are urging action.
Last February, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a Jewish audience in Paris that the WCAR in 2001 had been marked by “intolerable excesses” and said France would “not allow a repetition.”
Noting that France would preside over the E.U. during the latter part of the preparatory process – the second half of 2008 – he pledged that the E.U. would withdraw from the process if its “legitimate demands are not taken into account.”
In a statement to the Human Rights Council in September, France said the E.U. wanted all states to address the racism issue without politicizing it, without singling out any region of the world, and “without trying to draw up an order of priority among victims.”
It also said the declaration negotiated at the WCAR should not be re-opened for discussion – a reference to the OIC’s drive to insert references to religious defamation.
U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, views the September statement as having set out the E.U.’s “red lines” for participation.
The organization’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, said the dominant theme of the draft outcome document “is that the United States, Western Europe, Israel and the other liberal democracies – their principles, institutions, policies, respective histories and national identities – are singularly racist and discriminatory against Islam.”