No more mes­sages of hate at Dur­ban, please

It is vi­tal to avoid a re­peat of a con­fer­ence which left an im­print of last­ing venom

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - HENRY GRUN­WALD

THE UNITED NA­TIONS Dur­ban Con­fer­ence, held in 2001, glob­alised the dis­course of con­tem­po­rary an­tisemitism and anti-Zion­ism, turn­ing the UN into an arena where Jews and Is­raelis were ac­cused of apartheid, geno­cide and crimes against hu­man­ity. It was agreed at Dur­ban that, 10 years on, there would be a re­view con­fer­ence to ad­dress progress on its out­comes. To pre­pare for that, the UK Jewish com­mu­nity es­tab­lished the Jewish Hu­man Rights Coali­tion (UK), com­mit­ted to hu­man rights and to fight­ing racism — the orig­i­nal aims of the Dur­ban process. Led by the Board of Deputies (of which I am pres­i­dent), it has held a se­ries of talks with Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and min­is­ters.

We, and many NGOs, be­lieve that the Dur­ban Re­view con­fer­ence, to be held in 2009, rep­re­sents a fi­nal op­por­tu­nity for the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil to avoid more venom aimed at Is­rael and the Jews.

At Dur­ban 1, the UK Gov­ern­ment de­liv­ered too lit­tle too late. It failed to grasp the con­se­quences of what was hap­pen­ing, or to deal with some UK NGOs who played a role in the pro­mo­tion of an­tisemitism at the con­fer­ence. The USA and Is­raeli del­e­ga­tions with­drew once it be­came clear what was go­ing to hap­pen. By re­main­ing, some Euro­pean par­tic­i­pants tried to di­lute the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion, but too lit­tle was done by the Gov­ern­ment to ar­tic­u­late that red lines had been crossed. It has be­come clear at re­cent meet­ings with the Gov­ern­ment, that it was aware of the threats and sen­si­tive to our con­cerns; and at present, we con­sider that UK and EU en­gage­ment may bear fruit. But there may come a time when fur­ther UK Gov­ern­ment en­gage­ment in the Dur­ban process be­comes un­ten­able.

The Gov­ern­ment has ac­cepted this view. In Par­lia­ment, Europe Min­is­ter Jim Mur­phy said it would play no part in a “con­fer­ence that ex­hibits the de­gree of an­tisemitism that was dis­grace­fully on view” at Dur­ban 1.

Our ap­proach dif­fers from that of some other di­as­pora Jewish com­mu­ni­ties which have lob­bied for early with­drawal: we recog­nise the long his­tory of UK Jewish in­volve­ment with hu­man rights, and note the re­cent growth of dy­namic groups such as René Cassin and the Jewish Hu­man Rights Net­work, which want hu­man­rights is­sues to have a higher pri­or­ity. We will, there­fore, en­sure the Gov­ern­ment chal­lenges the many out­rages within the UNHRC. We are mark­ing the red lines ear­lier and more force­fully than be­fore Dur­ban 1. If those lines are again crossed, we will be in a stronger po­si­tion to urge our Gov­ern­ment to stand by Jim Mur­phy’s words.

The Dur­ban re­view process pro­vides a chal­lenge to World Jewry, which has of­ten been por­trayed as con­cerned only with Is­rael and an­tisemitism. We must demon­strate that world Jewry can work ef­fec­tively to meet such chal­lenges. It is a global cam­paign, and our in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions must put aside the ri­valry that of­ten blights com­mu­nal life to de­liver a real global ap­proach. Re­cently, Is­rael hosted a meet­ing for in­ter­na­tional co-or­di­na­tion on this. Many present could not con­ceive that a Jewish com­mu­nity might see a pos­i­tive side in tak­ing part. A youth-group del­e­gate had to point out the huge num­bers of young Jews around the world who want to en­gage, as Jews, with a gen­uine hu­man­rights agenda. They will feel let down if their leaders do not try to make this hap­pen.

The lat­est prepara­tory meet­ings were in Geneva. Full Jewish en­gage­ment was dif­fi­cult be­cause some ses­sions were over Pe­sach. JHRC-UK mon­i­tored the process and the ini­tial signs were dis­turb­ing. Much of the meet­ing de­scended into chaos when the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment sought to bar a Cana­dian Jewish NGO from par­tic­i­pat­ing, con­firm­ing that there are those still in­tent on re­assert­ing the agenda of hate that blighted Dur­ban 1.

UK Jewry is pre­pared. As the third prepara­tory com­mit­tee gets un­der way this week, JHRC-UK rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be in Geneva to reach out to sup­port­ive UK and in­ter­na­tional NGOs, faith groups and sup­port­ers to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where we can par­tic­i­pate in the re­view con­fer­ence in the tra­di­tion of Jewish sup­port for hu­man rights. If this fails, we will lead in en­sur­ing that our Gov­ern­ment ex­erts its full in­flu­ence, di­rectly and via the EU, to see that no re­spected demo­cratic coun­try is party to a flawed Dur­ban process.

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