September 2, 2004
From Durban to Beersheba
The horrid bus bombings in Beersheba on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of 16 Israelis, including a 3-year-old boy, are grim reminders that the war on terror continues to rage in Israel.
Indeed, in 2004, the month of September has klal Yisrael reeling from this brutal attack and three other intertwined disasters. The images of Sept. 11 are imprinted indelibly on our minds and hearts, as powerfully as Pearl Harbor transformed an earlier generation. Sept. 29 marks the fourth anniversary of the second intifada, which has murdered and maimed thousands of Israelis, ruined Palestinian life and economy and destroyed any hope of rapprochement in the Holy Land for generations.
Dayenu? Enough already? No, we forget the other September anniversary at our own peril -- the United Nation's 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa. Just days before Sept. 11, Durban launched the war to demonize Israel and provided the supercharged ideological hatred that fuels terrorist attacks on the United States and the epidemic of suicide bombings.
What went wrong at Durban three years ago, and why is it still important?
Attended by 15,000 delegates from governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, the Durban Conference was supposed to address problems of bigotry in all its forms. Unfortunately, conferences, like airliners, can be hijacked. The Durban Conference was commandeered by a virulently anti-Israel, anti-American third-world bloc, made up primarily of Arab and Muslim nations with the complicity of Europe's NGOs, that ignored other human rights issues while demonizing Israel as the "21st century apartheid state" and reviving the 1975 U.N. resolution equating "Zionism with racism."
A meeting touted to combat hate instead degenerated into slander and intimidation both on the streets and in conference halls as some Jewish delegates felt compelled to hide their accreditation badges. Meanwhile, copies of "Mein Kampf" and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were widely distributed by Muslim activists, while a mob marched on Durban's Jewish community center shouting, "Hitler should have finished the job." Only the U.S. and Israeli delegations walked out in protest.
In the aftermath of this hatefest and the devastating mass murders of Sept. 11 -- some in the international community had second thoughts. Following a belated joint declaration against anti-Semitism by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights in 2002 used the first anniversary of Durban to issue a blistering report condemning European governments for failing to monitor or report the rising tide in anti-Jewish hate crimes across the continent. This set the stage for the European Union's own internal report exposing anti-Semitism, which that organization initially tried to suppress, as well as the subsequent forthright public stands taken by the European Union's Brussels Conference Against Anti-Semitism, the Berlin Declaration against Anti-Semitism and June's United Nation's Anti-Semitism Conference in New York.
But these positive gestures have been overwhelmed by the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, the adoption by the Arab and Muslim bloc of Anti-Semitism as statecraft and the refusal of the caretakers of global "civil society" to support Israelis' desperate efforts to exercise the ultimate human right-the right to live!
The Geneva-based watchdog NGO Monitor paints a troubling picture:
Despite backing from all four members of the International Quartet -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- for Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan from Gaza, prominent NGOs including HRW, Amnesty International, Britain's Christian Aid, Oxfam and European Union-funded Medical Aid for Palestinians immediately, in lock-step, fell in behind Yasser Arafat. They issued one-sided condemnations of the plan as "another blow to Middle East peace" that didn't even mention Palestinian suicide bombings.
Britain's War on Want, until recently run by former minister and alleged paid Saddam agent George Galloway, described Israel's security barrier as "twice as long as the Berlin Wall, and three times as high," without noting that its purpose is to keep out terrorist killers not keep in freedom seekers.
The record of American NGOs is somewhat better. Oxfam America, the YMCA and the American Red Cross protested to their own international bodies for discriminating against Israel, and CARE USA aids Palestinians without politicizing. But the poisons unleashed at Durban pollute college campuses and threaten interfaith relations -- as evidenced by the shocking decision of General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to equate democratic Israel with apartheid South Africa and initiating "phased selective divestment" from the Jewish state. The resolution omitted any reference to the menace of Palestinian terrorism.
As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in New York: "The United Nations emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust. And a human rights agenda that fails to address anti-Semitism denies its own history."
Now, also in Durban, a Nonaligned Nations Summit passed resolutions blaming all Mideast ills on Israeli "setter colonialism" and calling for U.N. sanctions. And in a move echoing the Nazi era, they urged an international ban on Israeli citizens living beyond the Green Line from traveling to any of its 121 member states.
This year, Sept. 11 coincides with Selichot, the start High Holidays. Let's use the time to reflect on our past deeds, recharge our spiritual batteries, and gird for the struggles ahead that were spawned by the horrors of Sept. 11, Durban and the intifada.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He served as the spokesman for the Jewish groups at the 2001 United Nations Durban Conference. Dr. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Wiesenthal Center.