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Friday, February 29, 2008

Can Israel ignore the Durban II conference?

Pfeffer's conclusion is not mine. Israel ignored the Durban summit last time and, believe it or not, the sky did NOT fall.
Ami Isseroff

Last update - 09:45 29/02/2008    
Jerusalem & Babylon / Ignoring Durban summit not an option 
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent  
There is something faintly ridiculous about Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's decision that Israel will not participate in the "Durban 2" Conference, a year from now. This is an event that so far lacks a definite date (merely some amorphous point at the beginning of 2009), a fixed venue (it is not even clear on which continent it will take place), and certainly a settled agenda. Even the conference's name is still under discussion. So what exactly is Israel, and apparently Canada, supposed to be boycotting?
And besides, anyone you ask at the Foreign Ministry, from Livni downward, will quickly assure you that this is not the last word and that Israel has left the door open for improvement and eventual participation. So if this isn't even a real boycott, what is it?
Perhaps it is simply some kind of a post-traumatic reaction to the first Durban conference six and a half years ago? Speak to any Israeli diplomat or Jewish activist who was actually there and you will hear chilling accounts of our small and meager forces, who were totally overwhelmed by a massive propaganda offensive of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred. For the Foreign Ministry, there is an additional source of trauma: It was the ministry's equivalent of the Yom Kippur or Second Lebanon War, because it was apparently caught totally unprepared. At least this is the accusation that one constantly hears from survivors of Durban. Whether or not it is justified, this time around, nothing is to be left to chance. 
A year and a half before Durban 2, everyone was already setting up special task forces and working groups: the ministry, the Jewish Agency, the World Jewish Congress and practically every other major Jewish organization. For a change, internal rivalries were set aside and everyone was coordinating with each other. Over the last few months, just like the Iranian bomb and anti-Semitism, Durban has become a convenient target to rally the troops around. The message was clear. This time the Jewish people would be ready.
What a pity that now, there is not going to be any fight. What a waste of a good task force. But not to worry: No one is planning to just stay quietly at home. Now we are going to spend months agonizing over the question of whether Jewish organizations should follow the Israeli government's lead and stay away also, or would it be better for pro-Israel NGOs to go and fight for the cause all the same. Or perhaps the best idea is to organize an alternative conference, like some politicians are already proposing. And who knows, perhaps the UN Human Rights Council will offer some kind of concession and Israel will in the end be tempted to participate. Though we should not hold our breath for that, with Libya as council chairman and Cuba as vice-chair. The two main preparatory meetings have been scheduled for Pesach and Yom Kippur, which does not bode well for openness to Israeli demands.
As tempting as it might be to give the UN the finger and just ignore the whole carnival, that is not really an option. The problem of Israel and the Jewish world is not three hate-filled sessions at some conference center somewhere, it runs a lot deeper than that. Nor is it just a matter of "us and the UN," or the constant complaints of Diaspora Jews about "why Israel can't get its public relations act together." The fact that a major conference on human rights and fighting racism, sponsored by the most important international organization in the world, can turn into a platform dedicated to challenging the legitimacy of the Jewish state and branding Israel as a racist, colonialist leftover means that all the hundreds of advocacy organizations, watchdog groups and research centers dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism have failed dismally.
The reaction to the whole Durban process should be simple. Either we are clear on the fact that delegitimizing Israel's existence and holding it to an impossible double standard is the 21st century's version of ancient anti-Semitism, and therefore it has to be fought tooth and nail, and Israel and the Jews cannot allow any of their ostensible allies to take part in such an event; or we agree that ultimately, this is simply harsh criticism of Israeli policy, and try to deal with it through the normal diplomatic and PR methods. But listen to the pronouncements of Israeli ministers and Jewish Diaspora leaders and you don't get a clear answer: What is Durban 2, exactly?
When a rabbi is attacked on the streets of Kiev, or a swastika is daubed on the walls of a Jewish school in Paris, there is no problem with giving it the headline "another anti-Semitic attack." But can we use that title to describe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to destroy Israel, when the Jewish community in Iran is still a protected minority, with its own member of parliament even? For most, the answer is instinctively yes, but the fact is that for many others it is not, and the gray area is growing all the time.
Durban will come and go, but this problem will remain. Some people have used the "a-S" word so much, in a Pavlovian fashion, that it has practically lost its meaning. But others have not used it at all, for fear of sounding anachronistic and reactionary, or just unfashionable in post-modern circles - thereby creating an illusion that it has gone away and does not exist anymore. Surely enough thinking and research has gone into the question of what modern anti-Semitism is to produce a clear standard, one above the daily rigmarole of left-right politics. 

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