U.S. Right to Reject Durban II by Rabbi Marvin Hier & Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper
U.S. Right to Reject Durban II

The announcement by senior U.S. officials that they are pulling out of April's "Durban Review of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism" should be good news for human rights campaigners. The news comes just days after American diplomats sought to change the tone and thrust of the Durban II summit, on behalf of President Obama's commitment to talk with enemies and seek multilateral platforms to deal with international problems.

Durban II is the follow-up conference to the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism, the first international human rights gathering in Africa. Durban I was a disaster. With over 3,900 non-governmental groups represented by leading human rights activists from over 160 countries, Durban I was supposed to tackle global racism, religious hate and discrimination. Instead, it rapidly unraveled it into a hate-fest.

There were numerous resolutions condemning Europe's record of colonialism and calls for reparations for America's enslavement of blacks in the 18th and 19th centuries. But there was only silence over China's record in Tibet, North Korea's Gulag, and human rights abuses in Libya, Sudan, Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and Cuba. Meanwhile, concepts like individual freedom and democracy were under attack. Only one nation was singled out: Israel, demonized as the new "apartheid state." Jewish delegates were physically intimidated by Iranian 'activists,' the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion were distributed by street demonstrators, and caricatures of swastika'd Jews with fangs dripping blood adorned NGO exhibitions. The only real-time protests came from six German NGOs. America and Israel walked out.

The Obama team's efforts to fix the Durban process had little chance of success. The only entity empowered to make any change is the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), itself a rubber-stamp for anti-Israel screeds. Reacting to the Gaza incursion, HRC's High Commissioner, South Africa's Navanethem Pillay, spoke of investigating and prosecuting "war crimes" -- not Hamas for using women and children as human shields and mosques and hospitals as missiles launching sites, but the Jewish state for the sin of striking back at Hamas targeting Israeli civilians.

American diplomats learned first-hand that the autocratic gang driving Durban II would not be deterred. That is why our ally Canada decided to boycott the process when it was learned that Durban II was going to be chaired by Libya, whose leader Muammar Qaddafi recently blamed Darfur on Israel. Other members, Pakistan and Cuba, are interested only in ensuring that their own dismal human rights abuses remain hidden. Same for Iran, which continues to stone women for adultery, execute children, persecute gays, finance international terrorism, develop nuclear centrifuges in defiance of the UN, and threaten to "wipe Israel off the map." Iran and Syria have already manipulated the "unanimity rule" to remove any restrictions on Durban II delegates wanting to express Holocaust Denial. Egyptian and Pakistani delegates, declaring that discussion of Shariah law "will not happen," rebuffed a British historian seeking to discuss mistreatment of women under Islam.

The decision not to attend Durban II comes just before Secretary of State Clinton's first official Middle East visit. The decision is welcome news for an Israeli population that has shifted profoundly to the Right, in no small measure because of its deep distrust of the world body's double standard -- silent while 3,000 rockets rained down on Southern Israel, but rushing to convene emergency sessions once the Israelis decided to act in self-defense and enter Gaza. Diaspora Jewry, already badly shaken by the spike in attacks on synagogues, violent assaults and genocidal rhetoric on the streets of world capitals, is relieved America won't be in Geneva as the expected tsunami of hate rolls off the UN resolution presses.

President Obama's decision gives him a perfect opportunity to breathe new life into the human rights movement by launching a "Coalition of the Willing." For starters, it would include Canada, UK, Australia, the EU and beyond. Such a move would enable the world to bypass corrupted UN venues like Durban II, and instead embrace a bold new multilateral push for human rights that fearlessly and fairly examines every nation's record and fulfills the core ideals upon which the UN was founded.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.