Israel Once Again Accused of ‘Apartheid’ at U.N. Racism Meeting

Patrick Goodenough | September 23, 2011 | 4:45am EDT
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U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon addresses “Durban III” at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday. Alongside him are General Assembly president Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, and U.N. undersecretary Muhammad Shaaban. (U.N. Photo by Rick Bajornas)

( – The U.N. on Thursday commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Durban anti-racism process, an enterprise that has been marked by years of acrimony over efforts to single out Israel as racist. More than a dozen Western democracies boycotted the event.

Meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly session, the gathering adopted, without a vote, a text reaffirming countries’ “political commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.”

The DDPA is the document that emerged from the original World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001. It has been at the heart of the decade-long Durban controversy, since it identified “Palestinian people under foreign occupation” as victims of racism. No country other than Israel was targeted in the same direct way.

Some human rights advocates deplored the fact that the Israel-centric focus – part of an international campaign to label Israel an “apartheid” state – has upstaged other pressing situations around the world such as Darfur, where  up to 300,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, died in fighting between black African rebels and the Arab-dominated regime and its militias.

Countries that chose to stay away from Thursday’s event – in order of their public decision to do so – were Canada, Israel, the U.S., the Czech Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Britain, New Zealand, France and Poland.

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Opening the “Durban III” meeting – “Durban I” was the 2001 original; “Durban II” was a review conference in Geneva in 2009 – U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon referred to the problems that have dogged the anti-racism drive.

“We are all aware that the original Durban conference and its follow-up two years ago caused immense controversy,” he said. “We should condemn anyone who uses this platform to subvert that effort with inflammatory rhetoric, baseless assertions and hateful speech.”

Nonetheless the Israeli-Palestinian issue featured in a number of speeches delivered during the day-long event’s plenary sessions and roundtables.

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the “continuing existence of state-apartheid in the Palestinian occupied territories.”

He also criticized those who stayed away, describing them as “supporters of the racist Zionist regime” and accusing them of “self-interest, double standard and selective policies.”

Cuban deputy foreign minister Abelardo Moreno referred to Israel’s “cruel and illegal occupation” while attributing what he called a rise in racism around the world to “neoliberal globalization and centuries of slavery, colonization and domination.”

The Saudi delegate, Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Saud Al-Kabeer, accused Israel of actions designed “to wipe out the national and cultural identity of the Palestinian people.”

“The clearest illustration of such comprehensive racial discrimination lies heavily before us against the Palestinian people today,” he said. “The Palestinians have been subjected to all forms of racial, political, socio-economic and religious discrimination. The striking evidence of these aspects is manifested in the policies and measures that were adopted by Israel in Palestine.”

Turki also dedicated part of his speech to “Islamophobia,” referring to the “negative stereotyping of Islam” and what he called “hate campaigns against the Islamic religion and Islamic symbols where the Prophet Mohammed is at the forefront.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of Muslim-majority states, is pushing to get an existing – and legally-binding – international anti-racism convention broadened to define defamation of religion as “a contemporary form of racism.”

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