is a journalist-in-residence
at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
If a group of despotic governments wants to organize a global mega-conference dedicated to fueling hatred of Jews, Israel and the United States, the United Nations might not be able to stop it. But surely the U.N. would at least refuse to organize, bankroll and host such an outrage?
Think again. The U.N. has done it before, in 2001, with a gathering in South Africa known as the Durban conference. There, after preparatory meetings in places such as Geneva and Tehran, the "Death to Israel! Death to America" discourse waxed so virulent that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out.
Now the U.N. is planning a repeat performance, location yet to be finalized - billed as a "review" of the results of Durban, round one. So far, Durban II is shaping up to be at least as vile as Durban I, and possibly worse. The U.N. has come up with a 20-member executive planning committee chaired by Libya, has Cuba as its rapporteur, and includes such bastions of official intolerance as Russia, Pakistan and Iran (which, along with its record of supporting terrorism, threatening the existence of Israel, and hosting one of the preparatory meetings for Durban I, has experience organizing such hate-fests as its 2006 Holocaust cartoon contest).
So nasty are the portents that Canada recently did the right thing and took the lead in announcing that rather than lend any legitimacy to this outrage by taking part, the Canadian government would boycott Durban II.
Right now the Bush administration ought to be racing to back up Canada by announcing a U.S. boycott. That would help set an example for other democratic governments, such as those of Western Europe.
But no. Instead, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice keeps nudging the final decision down the road. The State Department has been politely protesting and voting against plans for the conference (only to be outvoted at every turn) but is still leaving open the possibility that in 2009 the United States might show up for the main event.
Last month, at a budget hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Norm Coleman (R., Minn.) asked Rice if the Bush administration would follow Canada's lead and announce a boycott. Her reply, slippery in the extreme, was that while "we have no intention of participating in something like Durban I," there is still a wait-and-see approach to Durban II: "We have not tried to make any decision on this."
What's to wait for? While the Bush administration fiddles, Durban II, with all its nasty portents, is becoming ever more entrenched as a mainstream U.N. project. Last year, despite a series of protest votes from the United States, the conference planners arranged to get millions in funding from the U.N.'s regular budget - 22 percent of which is bankrolled by U.S. taxpayers. The preparatory committee, starring Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Cuba, is overseen by the U.N.'s Geneva-based Human Rights Council, an outfit stocked with veteran talent at trashing Israel and the United States. This council was set up two years ago to replace the twisted old Human Rights Commission, which catered so thoroughly to tyrants that in 2003 it finally embarrassed even the United Nations by choosing Libya as its chair. The same Libyan ambassador who held that post, Najat Al-Hajjaji, is now presiding over preparations for Durban II. And the new, "reformed" Human Rights Council has picked up where its predecessor left off - issuing more condemnations of Israel since 2006 than of any other nation on the planet.
In theory, the aim of these Durban conclaves is to fight racism - a worthy cause, when honestly invoked. But at the U.N., there is a long and ugly tradition of hijacking the word
to serve as an Orwellian signal for ganging up on Israel and other democratic states. That's how the U.N. produced its malignant 1975 resolution saying "Zionism is a form of racism" - which was repealed in 1991, only after a fierce campaign by the United States.
Now we have Durban II in the making, with the next preparatory meeting scheduled for April in Geneva. It ought to be decision time at the State Department.