Friday, March 13, 2009

A Mass Exodus

The AJC has launched a new blog called "AJC Durban Dispatch", promising to be a one-stop shop for the Durban Review Conference (widely known as Durban II). Right now it is covering the steady drumbeat of criticism of the conference (due primarily to hyper vitriolic criticism of Israel and language which would make criticism of religion a human rights violation), and the various countries which have threatened to or already have withdrawn. So far, Canada, Israel, the US, and Italy are confirmed non-participants. Countries considering withdrawing include the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark. The Netherlands, in particular, is taking some very aggressive steps, pressing for a unified EU front against the conference if it does not amend its language, and otherwise the Dutch will withdraw unilaterally.

Colleagues of mine in the civil rights community have differed with me over whether the US should have withdrawn from Durban II. I understand their concern: there are many, many important issues about race and racial injustice that are critical to discuss, and the US needs to get back into the fray of this international discourse if we're to have any hope of pushing the discussion in a positive direction. But at the same time, I think it is very clear that the Durban conferences have been abject failures in putting these issues on the public agenda. The only thing they're known for is attacking Israel. Can anyone in the general public name a single other outcome of Durban I? Can anyone name a single productive agenda item on Durban II?

What we're seeing is that the illiberal regimes who are seeking to make Israel the scapegoat for any and every human rights calamity worldwide have been quite successful -- they've made it impossible for us to discuss "human rights", only Israeli human rights violations. The best way to respond to that is to refuse to play the game. When, in Durban I, only the US and Israel withdraw, people could ignore it: It's only America and its lapdog Israel (or vice versa -- I can never figure out who is the tail and who is the dog in this telling of the tale), and of course they'll walk out. It doesn't have any purchase, because the world doesn't consider the perspective of the US or Israel to be relevant to anti-Semitism or anti-Israel politics. I think they're blinded by their own prejudices, but there it is.

A more broad-based boycott would be far harder to ignore. If the entire EU, plus Israel, plus Canada, plus Australia, and whatever other nations might join them (the Japan Times just editorialized its view that Durban II should be scrapped), the message will be sent that a firm coalition comprised of many of the world's most liberal countries will not countenance shielding the field of human rights violators by only targeting Israel. No longer will nations like Cuba and Libya be able to count on the international community as a whole affirming their charades. Perhaps they don't care -- but at least we'll have drawn the battle lines.

No comments: