This is hardly the time for levity, but watching delegates at the Durban anti-racism review conference walk out while President Ahmadinejad served up his version of Zionist history, I couldn’t help thinking of that immortal phrase from Laurel and Hardy: “Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” The Geneva UN gathering is an event of high seriousness. It coincides with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and Hitler’s birthday. It has been heading for disaster for months while western states and Jewish groups have been at loggerheads over strategy. It appears to have been completely derailed by a publicity-seeking, not especially powerful politician, desperately campaigning for re-election as president. And meanwhile, the millions whose lives are utterly blighted by racial discrimination, violence and hatred are relegated to a footnote. Part farce, part tragedy? Seeking refuge in humour doesn’t seem an entirely inappropriate way of responding when none of it seems to make any sense.
Some who stayed in their seats clapped and cheered. In whose interests? Did the anti-Israel rhetoric at the 2001 Durban anti-racism conference help alleviate the plight of the Palestinians one iota? No. The last eight years have seen a gross deterioration in their position. Did the attempt to brand Zionism a form of racism help bring closer an end to the aggressive settlement policy on the West Bank? No. It continued apace. And with the new rightwing dominated government now in power in Israel, that policy looks likely to intensify. The Palestinians, who deserve no less than a complete and immediate end to occupation and all the repressive policies and human rights abuses that go with it, lost out then and will lose out again.
Jewish groups have long been agonising over what stance to take. Bitter accusations of appeasement and betrayal have been flying around between self-styled individual champions of Jewish and Israeli honour, and Jewish defence organisations unable to make up their minds about fighting expected antisemitism from inside the tent or avoiding the taint of appearing powerless to prevent it by remaining outside. The pugnacious American lawyer Alan Dershowitz epitomises the latter position by demonstrating outside Ahmadinejad’s hotel. The UK Jewish Human Rights Coalition epitomises the former by deciding to attend, but shows the confusion at the heart of their strategy by calling on the UK delegation to withdraw because of Ahmadinejad’s attendance.
A mess, and doomed, it may well be. But the boycotts by the US, Canada, Israel, Italy and others only hand a kind of victory on a plate to those who want to hijack the conference for their own, narrow political purposes. Since when has the UN been a children’s tea party? It can’t help for powerful countries to give the impression that they cannot make the arguments that need to be made against Ahmadinejad and his ilk. And these arguments need to be addressed to a wider world audience. And in whose interests is it for Israel to be playing the victim? Israel too is perfectly capable of making its arguments. What on earth will withdrawing its ambassador from Switzerland achieve? When the dust settles, it will be easy for other states to ask: “Why should we entertain the likes of a far right racist like your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman?”
Laurel and Hardy’s famous signature tune was The Cuckoo Song. A pompous and dramatic melody and an out-of-key harmony, with just two notes. Sounds like this benighted conference.
Filed under: ANTI-ISRAEL, gaza, imperialism, ISRAEL, ISRAELI-APARTHEID POLICY, occupation, palestine, Racism/hate, reflections, resistance, settlers, shoah, USA, zionism | Tagged: Ahmadinejad, Durban, Durban II, UN, zionist, Zionist history |