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April 23, 2009

Exclusive Durban II Blog -  Day 4: Twisted Tongues

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/exclusive_durban_ii_blog_-_day_4_twisted_tongues_20090423/

David Weiner is a guest blogger for JewishJournal.com.  He is currently in Geneva attending the Durban Review Conference (also referred to as Durban 2) as part of a delegation representing the American Jewish Committee, composed of roughly 15 young professionals.

Armed with his laptop, still camera, and flip video camera, David will be providing continuous updates and sharing his own thoughts and experiences from Durban 2.

Click Here to Read Day 1
Click Here to Read Day 2
Click Here to Read Day 3

I learned today that there are tongue twisters, twisted tongues, and then sounds that the tongue simply can’t make.  For example, it’s not easy for the American (or Jewish) tongue to pronounce “Ahmadinejed.”  And that’s probably for the better.  Then there are the tongue twisters, like “She sells seashells by the sea shore.”

And then there are the twisted tongues. I was speaking with Biro Diawara, Representative of Interfaith International, who facilitated a panel dealing with intolerance and Islamophobia.  He told me that the tongue can be used to incite hatred, but that the tongue can also be used to work together.  I have found too many tongues at this conference that are being used to promote division rather than cooperation: the twisted tongue.

Language is very important at this conference – especially considering a key objective is to produce an outcome document.  This document, which was already passed on Tuesday, forbids “language that incites hatred” - which is the outcome document’s compromise position on limiting one’s freedom of expression.  The negotiators excluded the controversial draft language forbidding “defamation of religion.”

There is a healthy debate here about the limits of free speech, but it doesn’t directly address the problem of the twisted tongue – when people attending a conference to help eradicate racism come armed with only racist language.  Instead of using this forum to talk about working together, this conference – as seen in the General Assembly as well as the NGO meetings - has been a forum for language that incites further polarization. 

And it’s against this backdrop that I set up a meeting with Palestinian NGOs working on human rights issues in Israel.  Five representatives from my delegation were supposed to meet with two different Palestinian activists – one who runs an NGO in Nazareth, and the other is a lawyer working on land issues in Jerusalem. 

When I called to confirm the meeting, the Palestinian lawyer refused to come - claiming that he was too upset to meet.  Earlier in the day, he attended a panel discussion on the Holocaust where a prominent Jewish voice allegedly accused him of being sympathetic to the Nazis – even going so far to call him Ahmedinjad.  However, the head of the human rights organization agreed to keep the meeting, even though his colleagues and other organizations advised against it.

The meeting could have been contentious.  We could have focused on our areas of disagreement.  We could have brought our own “red lines” to the table and walked out of the room when those lines were crossed.  We could have used our tongues to do battle.

But if we had, then we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss the issues that we have in common – like making Israel a stronger democracy and a more secure state through promoting the equal treatment of Israel’s minorities.  If we had yielded to the incendiary voices at the conference, then we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to talk directly to each other about issues that we care about – and perhaps more important, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear from the other.

At this conference, with people speaking so many different languages, I wish that I would have encountered more tongue twisters than twisted tongues.

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