Friday, November 21, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 75: A parable on the challenges of civility, as Canada and now Israel boycott the upcoming 2009 Durban II Anti-"Racism" Conference

One of the perennial challenges of democracy and the local and national -- increasingly as well, international -- civil society that is its foundation, is the rise of mob-rule led by extremists, leading to bullying and intimidation. Onward, this too often leads to outright persecution and lynching or -- as the sad 1994 events of Rwanda remind us -- even genocide.

The need to make a principled response to the mob-rule [ochlocracy] challenge is the root of the saying that "I may utterly disagree with your view; but I will defend, to the death, your right to hold and freely express it."

Unfortunately, in an increasingly radicalised and politically correct age, we are beginning to lose sight of that foundational premise of successful democracy.

Therefore, it is instructive for us to reflect on a recent announcement by Ms Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister of Israel. For, she has just confirmed that Israel will join Canada in boycotting the upcoming April 2009, "Durban II" UN-sponsored Conference on Racism etc, to be held in Geneva.

As Haaretz reports:
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced Wednesday [Nov 20, 2007] that Israel has made a final decision to boycott the United Nations "Durban II" conference on human rights this spring, fearing it would be used once again as a forum for anti-Israeli sentiment . . . .

"The documents prepared for the conference indicate that it is turning once again into an anti-Israeli tribunal, singling out and delegitimizing the State of Israel," Livni told Jewish-American leaders at the UJC General Assembly in Jerusalem.

"The conference has nothing to do with fighting racism," she said. "In view of this situation, I decided that Israel will not participate and will not legitimize the Durban II conference."

The foreign minister also called on the international community "not to participate in a conference which seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of a fight against racism."
This call of course immediately brings to our attention the issue of Caribbean participation in the conference and what that might legitimise. So, it would be wise for us to pause and take a second look at the issue of racism and the way it is being projected on the international stage.

Fror that, an Israel Foreign Ministry statement of November 19 provides some initial backdrop, on the controversial Durban I Conference, which -- by a strangely pointed coincidence -- was held only a few days before the 9/11 attacks in September 2001:
The Durban Conference of 2001 became a forum for pernicious accusations and incitement against Israel, attacks against Zionism libeling it as a form of racism, denial of the unique and special nature of the Holocaust, and a distortion of the meaning of the term anti-Semitism.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry continues:
. . . the Asian Group paper which was submitted to the Preparatory Committee [for the Durban II conference] contains the same language of hate which undermined the first Durban Conference. The document reproduces, almost word-by-word, the rhetoric of the Tehran Planning Meeting in 2001, a meeting which led to the Durban 1 farce. Once again extremist Arab and Muslim states wish to control the content of the conference and derail it from its original mission.
Regrettably the Asian document was compiled into the "Draft Outcome Document" [for Durban II], which appears now on an official UN website. In this "Draft Outcome Document" no particular country is named or singled out, except for Israel . . . . Despite our efforts and those of friendly countries, for whose position we are grateful, the conference appears to be heading once again towards becoming an anti-Israeli tribunal, which has nothing to do with fighting racism.
In short, it appears that under the banner of fighting global racism, Israel has again been improperly singled out as the chief -- and only named -- exemplar of "racism" and "apartheid." Worse, one of the chief "singlers out" is a state, Iran, that has openly declared intent to wipe Israel off the map, and has plainly also set out on acquiring the nuclear weapons to do just that.

Further to this, there is now a campaign to redefine "antisemitism" by portraying Arabs (especially Palestinian Arabs) as the posterboy victims of Israeli "antisemitism" and "apartheid."

The actual complexity of the conflicting nationality and homeland claims over the land of Canaan, sadly, is then utterly lost in the over-heated rhetoric.

While it would not be helpful to change gears and focus to try to explain that complexity in details just now, it is fair comment to observe that both Arabs and Jews (as well as the Kurds etc) have historically warranted, legitimate nationalistic claims in the Middle East. Second -- from the 1919 Weismann-Feisal agreement on -- consistently, the Zionists/Israelis have therefore been willing to compromise towards mutual development of the Middle East.

Indeed, such is actually written into the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which in the relevant part states that:
. . . [Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
It is equally fair (though sad) comment to point out that, by contrast the fate of non-Muslim peoples under Islamic rule and the religiously motivated Sharia-based, state enforced policy of Dhimmitude has -- for over a thousand years -- been a longstanding international injustice that is materially parallel to apartheid. On that, global opinion and media have, sadly, largely been silent. (Cf also this blogger's remarks here, here and here.)

In sum, Caricom and the individual Ministries of Foreign Affairs in our region face a significant challenge if we are to address the Durban II conference with integrity, wisdom and fair-minded but firm balance.

To do that, it will be helpful to look to our elder brother Commonwealth nation, Canada.

For, we may see from a Canwest news article datelined February 24, that:
Multiculturalism Secretary of State Jason Kenney announced last month [that] Canada will not attend UN's . . . Durban II Conference, saying it is shaping up to be as anti-Semitic and anti-West as the controversial 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa . . . .

"I expect other countries to make the same decision, and I believe that, if anything, Canada's withdrawal has given more leverage to those who are combating the voices of intolerance - voices that once more seem to have hijacked the Durban process," Kenney said in an interview . . . .

Iran, whose leadership has called for Israel's destruction, sits on an executive planning committee for the 2009 conference, while Libya occupies the chair.

Among proposed agenda items is one called "Islamophobia," which Arab and Islamic countries define as a rise in anti-Muslim discrimination around the world. But critics say it's code for both attacking the West's anti-terrorism efforts and diluting the horrors of the Holocaust by stating Muslim Semitic peoples are the new anti-Semitism victims.

In short, the conference planning process has unfortunately again been riddled with major conflicts of interest and agendas that render it utterly unlikely to credibly face and address its stated focus on the quite important global questions of racism and xenophobia.

In some cases, the reasons behind such propagandistic distortions of international events are only too obvious, but there are subtler challenges at work. Challenges that are equally relevant to us in the Caribbean as we look to Non-Government Organisations [NGO's], Aid/Donor Agencies and Inernational bodies, conferences, declarations and the like to guide us in our reflections on and dealings with international issues.

David Matas of Bnai Brith, Canada, provides a useful start point, in his review on what went wrong at Durban I, through focussing on the parallel Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO] Forum that (by design) influenced the course of and outcomes from the official, Government level conference:

. . . the inexperience of the organizers, and the absence of both clear rules and institutional structures meant that those with a political agenda were able to turn the [Durban I] NGO Forum away from human rights and to their own agenda . . . .

To compound their difficulties, the organizers of the NGO Forum decided to include in the Declaration and Program of Action the voices of the victims, speaking about their victimization. The trouble with that notion is that, in times of war, both sides typically see themselves as the victims and their enemies as perpetrators . . . . In such a situation it was all too easy for a declaration and program of action to become the voice not of the many, but of a few, the wildest and most determined extremists.

The nongovernmental world is no holier that the governmental world. Powerlessness does not sanctify . . . . Non-governmental organizations are, after all, like governments, just people, and often the same people on their way into or out of government.

In short, both governments and NGOs can all too easily fall victim to cleverly packaged extremist agendas, if he well-intentioned majority do not insist on a fair, balanced, well governed, civil process. And, where NGOs are influential, breakdowns at that level can then improperly influence governments to follow extremist agendas.

Matas then spoke to the plight of the well-intentioned but naive:

. . . Human rights NGOs have learned to be suspicious of governments that mouth the human rights vocabulary and do little else. Governmental human rights hypocrisy is easily identified and condemned. These same human rights NGOs have been far less likely to scrutinize the incantation of human rights platitudes by political nongovernmental organizations.

The naivete and misdirection of human rights NGOs have created an opportunity for political NGOs. Political activists who have little regard for human rights use human rights discourse to discredit and delegitimize their opponents. They turn to human rights NGOs to endorse their cause, asking human rights NGOs to condemn their opponents as human rights violators. Human rights NGOs, as often as not, have been blind to this political manipulation and have bought into the agenda of those political movements which use the proper human rights vocabulary.

Political NGOs are sometimes nongovernmental in name only. Human rights NGOs are reluctant to take money from governments, for fear that it might compromise their independence. Political NGOs are not as reluctant, and are often financed by sympathetic governments. GONGOs, government organized NGOs, have been a traditional feature of communist regimes, but they proliferate wherever repression is found.


We trust and pray that our Foreign Ministries and Caricom's international affairs desks will therefore act with wisdom, balance and sober-minded, firm integrity as the April 2009, Durban II conference comes up on our region's international agenda.

However, the underlying challenge to the civility rooted foundations of democracy is not confined to the issue of racism, or the upcoming Durban II conference.

And so, God willing, we will next take a look at some further cases in point. END

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