Durban and the West's racist hypocrisy

April 25, 2009

The Durban Review Conference, held in Geneva on April 20-24, was supposed to review the progress made in implementing Declaration and Program of Action of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Both the DRC and the 2001 conference involved representatives of United Nations member states and a UN-approved program of NGO "side-events".

The mainstream media has focused on the April 20 speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the outraged reaction of Western nations to its supposed anti-semitism. This included the pre-arranged response of nine Western nations (including the US, Israel and Australia) who boycotted the conference.

However, whatever the crimes of Ahmadinejad, his statement that caused so much outrage was perfectly true. He described Israel as a "racist state".

Israel is a state based on the principle of "Jewish supremacy", whereby non-Jews within its borders (and in the territories it occupies) are relegated to second-class citizens.

Second, the countries who boycotted or walked out during Ahmedinejad's speech are, today and historically, worst practioners, historically and at present, of state-sponsored racism.

Third, far from being an exercise in bashing Israel, the DRC was actually hijacked by the West.

Palestinian voices were excluded from the NGO side-events and the anti-racist positions from 2001 were undermined.

The delegates of those European Union (EU) governments who were not already boycotting the conference walked out when Ahmadinejad said: "Following World War II, [the Western powers] resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering and they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine.

"And, in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

These words are not, as the Western media and politicians have claimed, holocaust denial.

The racism inherent in Zionism — the ideology of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine — is demonstrated by the "law of return". This allows Jews from anywhere in the world, needing no previous connection to the country, to immigrate to Israel with full citizenship rights.

On the other hand, Palestinian refugees — expelled when Israel was founded in 1948 —are prevented from returning to their homes.

Israel was founded with the ethnic cleansing of most Palestinians from the 78% of Palestine seized by the new colonial-settler state. Israel occupied the remaining 22% of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) in 1967.

Palestinians living in the occupied territories have no citizenship rights. The 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have them in full.

The 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem live in geographically separated walled ghettos. Activities such as going to work or school, or even visiting hospitals, involves going through check-points. At best entails delays and often humiliation, at worst are often closed.

The situation is even worse for the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is completely sealed off by Israel and has been subjected to a starvation siege for the past three years.

In the occupied territories, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and killing are the norm.

Iranian media reports have emphasised the racism of Western states who boycotted the conference.

An April 20 Press TV report pointed out the ongoing genocide against indigenous people in the US, Australia and Canada.

Racism originated in the 17th and 18th centuries as a justification for the colonialism and slave trade by which the Western nations established their global supremacy.

Although often less blatant, the same basic racism justifies the continued division of the world into overwhelmingly white "haves" and predominantly dark-skinned "have-nots".

This racism was reflected in an April 20 BBC report of "some key quotes" of the reaction to Ahmadinejad "from around the world". Those quoted were representatives of the UN, the European Union, the Vatican, the European Jewish Congress and the governments of the US, Israel, Britain and Norway.

Not one Third World representative was quoted.

Australia's boycott also reeks of hypocrisy. Indigenous Australians live in Third World conditions and have a life expectancy about 20 years lower than their white counterparts.

To carry out the racist Northern Territory intervention, which introduces apartheid-like regulations for Indigenous people, the then-Howard Coalition government had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Rudd Labor government continues the policy, including the act's suspension.

It was precisely this institutional racism that the 2001 Durban conference tried to address.

Salim Vally, South African Palestine Solidarity Committee spokesperson and an organiser of the NGO events at the Durban conference, told Green Left Weekly: "We had tens of thousands of people ... We had the descendents of slaves from the Americas. We had Indigenous people from the Pacific Islands and the Americas. We had workers. We had the so-called untouchables, the dalits, from India. We had the Roma from Europe.

"Those who have suffered racism came together and made common cause with the Palestinians.

"People were outraged when Israel and a few Western countries said, 'We don't want the issue of reparations for slavery on the agenda! We don't want the issue of Zionism on the agenda!'

"These people who suffered racism and oppression said, 'who are you to tell us what we should put on our agenda ... All the groups joined hands, literally, in that space in South Africa, which is very symbolic because it was just a few years after the first democratic elections in 1994.

"We had a march of 15,000 people from around the world, many of whom were victims of racism and oppression. And we marched behind the slogans: 'reparations for slavery!' and 'Zionism is racism!'

"The apologists for Israel went crazy. They called it an 'anti-semitic hate fest'. It was so far from the truth.

"I did not witness any anti-semitism. In fact it was a spirit of unity of oppressed people and the powers-that-be could not determine what we said."

Unfortunately, the hysteria around supposed anti-semitism from Durban led to Palestinians being barred from the UN-supported NGO events at the Geneva conference.

In response, Palestinian NGOs, led by Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, held a separate "Israel Review Conference".

The ban on sessions related to specific regions did not stop Zionist forums from being part of the UN-approved agenda. In an April 23 post to entitled "The Worst Two Hours of My Life", Cecilie Surasky described one such forum as "a hateful, nasty 2-hour long harangue ... ostensibly on anti-semitism but really promoting anti-Arab/Palestinian/Muslim hate".

At another Zionist NGO forum, one panellist, gay Indian filmmaker Parvez Sharma wrote in the April 22 Huffington Post: "I found myself (unknowingly) on what turned into a 'bash Iran' panel with a problematic Zionist agenda. The expectation, perhaps, was that I, being Muslim and gay, would sit and join in the Iran-bashing choir.

"In doing the opposite I did not make myself the most popular person in the room. Later, two Israeli delegates spat at me."

He described how one pro-Israel panellist compared the holocaust to Palestinian resistance to Israel and Hitler to Ahmedinejad. He alsosuggested Ahmadinejad was behind the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur.

Iran had nothing to do with the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which was actually planned and led by France — one of the countries whose representatives walked out of Ahmadinejad's speech. The Rwandan government has indicted 32 French political and military leaders over the genocide.

Surasky and Sharma both described the disruptive antics of white pro-Western protesters, incongruously yelling "racist!" at Third World delegates.

Two days into the five-day conference, a final document was announced. Unlike 2001, it made no reference to Palestine.

African-American NGOs alleged that the US boycott and support of disruptions was motivated not only by support for Israel, but a desire to derail discussion on compensation for slavery, an April 21 Associated Press report said.

Jaribu Hill, executive director of the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, told AP. "We will not let Mr. Obama off the hook simply because he stands inside black skin, or because his campaign served to energize and inspire thousands of young people and people of color, and those who have historically been locked out."

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