By Abraham Cooper with Harold Brackman
Simon Wiesenthal Center
For most people who attended or watched Durban II–the UN’s “anti-racism” conference in Geneva–the indelible memory will be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s incendiary rant against that “most cruel and racist regime” Israel, followed by the dramatic, indeed unprecedented, indignant walkout by most European delegations whose countries had not already boycotted the conclave.
For me, the jarring and unforgettable moment came shortly after, as I stood with European Jewish students protesters next to Iranian supporters of Ahmadinejad just outside the official hall where the Iranian President was holding his post-rant press conference. Suddenly, one of the Iranians credentialed to the UN saw 81-year-old Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Eli Wiesel and burst forth in an apoplectic chant: “Zion-Nazi! Zion-Nazi!”
The human rights conference which some feared would be a fiasco was transformed into one of the UN’s most notorious disasters when organizers inexplicably bestowed the opening keynote to the Iranian President–on the eve of Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Memorial Day! Ahmadinejad did not disappoint his supporters. He strode to the podium and launched an attack on Israel and the United States. In the advanced text made available to diplomats, he described the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious,” but during the actual speech he only blamed the world for burdening the Palestinians with paying for it. At that moment, nearly 30 nations awoke from their PC-induced stupor and stormed out in protest.
Speaking immediately after Ahmadinejad, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, whose country financially and diplomatically has heavily invested in the fatally-flawed “Durban Process,” angrily denounced the Iranian president as “the odd man out” and declared that the UN would not be “hijacked by extremists.” Unfortunately, that declaration was akin to a captain promising to fight off pirates after his ship already was flying the Jolly Roger flag. Ahmadinejad was the big winner–leaving Geneva with plenty of footage to feed state-controlled media and websites to help him in his re-election campaign and solidify his poll position with America and Israel-bashers throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Meanwhile, as the United Nations reeled from a self-inflicted wound, the delegations–with the exception of the Czech Republic–returned after Ahmadinejad spoke. A UN official assured everyone Durban II was “back on track.” Indeed, over 100 nations voted on Tuesday for a resolution deleting an explicit reference to “Israel,” but otherwise reaffirming Durban I’s 2001 declaration singling out “the plight of the Palestinians,” ostensibly at the hands of the Jewish state, as the only global human rights issue worthy of special consideration. All other issues of the day–from Darfur to Tibet–went begging for attention.
Durban II also hurt President Obama’s chances of hastening Israeli-Palestinian peace. The morning after Ahmadinejad’s attack, I sat in the hall as Palestine “Foreign Minister” Dr. Riyad Al-Malichi from the same podium rejected that Israel could be a Jewish state. Those who believe such a notion, he indicated, were themselves guilty of “racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia.” President Obama has said all sides, including Israel, will have to make concessions to kick-start the peace process. Now the world has seen not one Arab, Muslim, or European diplomat rise to condemn this re-classification of Zionism as “racism” and Zionists as “bigots.” It is not likely that embattled Israelis–Left, Right, and Center–who are still reeling from their last unilateral gesture of leaving Gaza, or Jews everywhere concerned about Israel’s survival, will now be in a more trusting or giving mood.
Durban II exposed for all the world the hypocrisy at the UN that crushes, instead of protecting, those suffering the negation of their human rights. President Obama has signaled he plans to tackle this issue as well by having the US rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, which has been dominated by serial human rights abusers like Iran, Libya, and Cuba. Durban II should serve as a cautionary tale.
The US will have to apply tough love, leverage its diplomatic checkbook, and be prepared to walk out again if the UNHRC doesn’t restructure and clean up its act. Desperately needed is an unbiased tribunal that will give not just Palestinians but everyone with grievances–from North Korean stateless refugees, to Congolese rape victims, to political prisoners in the Castro brothers’ Bastilles –a voice on the world stage. Such a reform of the UN’s broken human rights mission is the desperately “change we can believe in.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center