June 7, 2001
Fighting the Israel Bash-a-Thon
Critics of the United Nations have been handed a big load of new ammunition as the international body careens toward a high-profile conference that could be the biggest Israel bash-a-thon ever.
The Bush administration is working to thwart the hijacking of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance by some of the world's leading human rights abusers, including Iran, Sudan, Cuba and China, which are trying to deflect attention from their own atrocious records.
But there is little optimism that Washington -- itself facing a backlash by the rights-abusing bloc -- will be able to blunt the anti-Israel thrust, which could have a negative impact on the quest for Middle East peace and make a mockery of international efforts to fight human rights horrors across the globe.
Last week, U.N. officials met in Geneva to continue work on a draft program for the conference, scheduled for South Africa in late August, based on working documents created during four regional sessions.
Several of those documents were bent and twisted into anti-Israel screeds.
References to anti-Semitism as a form of racism were carefully expunged. One reference was allowed to stand: Israel was castigated for "Zionist practices against Semitism," a mind-boggling twist on the concept of anti-Semitism.
In some cases, anti-Semitism was replaced by references to "Islamophobia."
The draft documents criticize the global mass media for its "racist bias in the reporting of the Palestinian problem and its coverage of the aggression against Iraq." Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is termed "a crime against humanity, a form of genocide."
The preliminary meeting of Middle Eastern and Asian nations was particularly virulent, which is ironic in view of the venue: Teheran, capital of a nation where human rights are all but nonexistent.
The anti-Israel surge has not provoked outrage from the European nations; aside from the United States, the world community has been reluctant to confront the Third World and Islamic nations spearheading this ideological hijacking.
The revival of the Zionism-as-racism slur does not help advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. On the contrary, it increases Israel's feeling of isolation and anger as it fends off a world body that ignores Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israeli children while elevating new mobile home clusters on the West Bank to the status of major war crimes.
Many Israelis believe the government's settlement policies are misguided. But the implication that settlements are worse than recent genocide in Africa or slavery in Sudan only helps neutralize that opposition in Israel, which is a democracy, unlike the nations pressing for an international bash-fest.
The anti-Israel venom, if it pervades the August conference, will make it even harder for the U.N. to play any kind of constructive role in the effort to find a fair solution to the Mideast dilemma.
And if the U.N. succumbs to the anti-Israel pressure, it will only encourage those Arabs who reject the very idea of reconciliation with Israel.
The U.N. action also reflects a growing pattern of anti-U.S. activity that decimates support for the international organization in this country.
This is the same United Nations that recently booted Washington off a Human Rights Commission that still includes countries like Sudan, Uganda, Libya and Syria, making the panel a "rogues' gallery of human rights abusers," according to Human Rights Watch.
A broad coalition of Jewish groups is working to blunt the anti-Israel surge.
The Anti-Defamation League is pressing administration officials to keep up the pressure. The American Jewish Committee is working with Eastern European nations and B'nai B'rith with Latin American countries to build international support for a more balanced conference. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is coordinating the efforts of Jewish groups.
But pro-Israel groups and the Israeli government, fearing an even bigger and more skewed conference without any U.S. presence, are not pressing for a U.S. boycott.
And they are reluctant to raise the matter in Congress, fearing a new anti-U.N. outburst. Lawmakers are already considering legislation to cut U.S. funding for the international body after Washington was kicked off the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
"This conference is an outrage, but right now what's needed is carefully calibrated diplomacy, not a big political racket," said an official with one Jewish group involved in the debate. "But it could come to that."
Adding to the difficulties Jewish leaders face is the other issue that has come to dominate planning for the session -- slavery.
African nations are pushing for a strong focus on slavery and colonialism and for a call for reparations from countries that allowed the importation of African slaves in the 1700s and 1800s.
Many of the same countries that support the emphasis on slavery also favor the anti-Israel thrust of the conference.
Jewish leaders are reluctant to comment on the sensitive slavery issue, but many are uneasy about the way it now seems linked to the anti-Israel emphasis of the conference.