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More countries boycott ‘Israel hate-fest’ conference



The list of countries boycotting next month’s United Nations anti-racism conference is growing over concerns that the gathering in New York will promote antisemitism.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance that was originally held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in 2001.

Organised to discuss issues of racism and discrimination, the original conference devolved into an all-out campaign to delegitimise Israel and its supporters. It resulted in the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” against racism which condemned racism and all related forms, including antisemitism. However, an initial draft of that declaration attempted to equate Zionism with racism.

Known as the first Durban conference, held from 31 August to 8 September 2001, it veered into an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hate-fest, according to numerous reports written at the time and several delegates present. It resulted in the popularisation of slogans such as “Israel apartheid” and the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog last month said the upcoming United Nations conference, called Durban IV, is a “gathering of hatred and slander, an antisemitic event in the worst sense”. Speaking at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, he called for countries and organisations to band together by acting “decisively, unanimously, and fearlessly” against September’s Durban IV conference.

Twenty years ago, countless non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were represented at the conference at a separate NGO Forum at which Israel was singled out for racism. According to reports, a strategy of isolating Israel through boycotts, legal attacks, and accusations of “apartheid” was launched.

Delegates present at the conference said some NGOs distributed anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material accusing Israel of genocide and questioning whether Hitler was right.

Several delegates including those from the United States and Israel walked out in protest as the negative tone against Israel continued unabated.

Last week, France joined the growing list of countries boycotting the upcoming conference. It brings to 11 the number of countries so far that have pulled out.

Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic are among them. The New York conference is being held on 22 September on the sidelines of the opening session of the 76th United Nations General Assembly.

France also boycotted follow-up meetings in 2009 and 2011. At the 2009 conference, a speech by Iran’s then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacking Israel sparked a walkout by many European delegates.

France made its announcement last Friday, 13 August. “France will continue to fight against all forces of racism, and will be watching to make sure that the Durban follow-up conference is held in accordance with the founding principles of the United Nations,” the presidency said.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to fight against antisemitism in all its forms, and last year, warned of “the unbearable resurgence of antisemitism in our Europe”.

The government has in recent days expressed concern about antisemitic slogans at protests against COVID-19 restrictions.

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has resolutely opposed the 20th anniversary commemoration, describing it as “in effect a racist conference against the Jewish state”.

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the SAZF, said this week, “We welcome the fact that 11 major countries will boycott next month’s high-level event in New York. The Durban conference is known to have been the genesis of the modern antisemitic BDS movement, which over two decades, has been responsible for vile acts of antisemitism against Jews and a concerted campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation against the world’s only Jewish state.

“The anti-Israel activists in attendance in 2001 distributed the infamous antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and shared pro-Nazi flyers bemoaning that if only Hitler had won the war, Israel wouldn’t have existed,” he said.

The legacy of Durban is a “global and systematic effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist as an indigenous Jewish and democratic state”, Polovin said.

Austria has also joined the Durban conference boycott. The Austrian Embassy in Israel announced, “Austria supports efforts to combat racism worldwide while rejecting the misuse of the Durban process to unfairly single out and target Israel.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok reportedly told the Dutch Parliament, “This decision was taken due to the history of the Durban process, the risk that this platform will once again be misused for antisemitic expressions, and because of the conference’s disproportionate, one-sided focus on Israel, as exemplified in the original Durban declaration.”

Earlier this year, Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor hosted an online event titled, “20 Years of Hijacking Human Rights: The Lasting Impact of Durban”, which brought together experts who discussed the enduring influence of the original Durban conference and the NGO campaign to delegitimise Israel.

The Jerusalem Report said participants at this event included NGO Monitor President Professor Gerald Steinberg; Professor Irwin Cotler, a former member of Parliament in Canada and minister of justice and attorney general; and NGO Monitor legal advisor Anne Herzberg, among others.

Said Steinberg, “Durban became one of the most potent symbols of organised hate against Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. We are now 20 years later, and the Durban NGO plan of action is being implemented in every direction.”

Cotler, who participated in the Canadian delegation to the 2001 Durban Conference, said, “A conference that was to commemorate the dismantling of South Africa as an apartheid state turned into a conference calling for the dismantling of Israel as an apartheid state.”

Herzberg said, “From the very outset, it was clear that antisemitism would be promoted rather than tackled, and that demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel would be a central feature.”

Said Polovin, “Ultimately, antisemites end up on the scrapheaps of history. Twenty years on, Israel is stronger, securer, richer, more loved, and more respected than ever before.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. yitzchak

    Aug 19, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    south africa of course will be attending!

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