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International Affairs  
Driving a Wedge of 'Racism'
By Abraham H. Foxman
This article appeared in the Washington Post on Tuesday August 7, 2001
and the International Herald-Tribune on Thursday August 9, 2001

The fall of the Soviet Empire had many positive results, most particularly ending fear of nuclear holocaust and the freeing of millions of people in Russia and the former Soviet republics and throughout Eastern Europe.

Another positive outcome was the diminution of ideological politics throughout the world, including at the United Nations. During the Cold War, issues were determined through the prism of the Soviet-American conflict. A classic example of this was the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism, which U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has characterized as the "low point" of the United Nations. This destructive resolution was a product of Soviet efforts to mobilize Arab countries and others against Israel and the United States.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Zionism-equals-racism resolution has been rescinded, and the United Nations has been able to agree on issues such as Slobodan Milosevic's arrest. These results point the way to future constructive international action.

Now, however, the world's nations face a critical test to determine whether they can, through cooperation, create a less hateful and more tolerant world or whether ideological politics, with all its destructive consequences, will rule the day.

The opportunity and the challenge come in the form of the week-long World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to begin Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa. In a world that is increasingly interdependent, with countries more and more pluralistic, issues of racism and other kinds of intolerance are relevant to every society on earth. Practical programs, using the expertise and experience of governments and nongovernmental organizations, can be put to good use if the international community in Durban agrees on principles to support and implement such programs.

In addition, at a time when conflict between developed and developing countries threatens to reappear in environmental and trade issues, among others, a successful conference on racism with agreed-upon principles could foster greater trust on other issues.

These potential gains, however, are being put in jeopardy. Anti-American and anti-Israel forces have tried to hijack the conference. Undermining Israel and the United States seems more important to these parties than the real achievements meant to benefit all.

Chief among such efforts has been the attempt to resurrect in a new form the charge that Zionism equals racism. In the draft document for the conference, phrases such as "racist practices of Zionism" and a description of Zionism as a movement "based upon elitism and racial superiority" are included. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967, such language denies "the Jewish people . . . the fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord to all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against the Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short it is anti-Semitism."

The effort against Israel and Jews even goes beyond the usual Zionism-is-racism charge. Arab states have proposed removing the word "Holocaust" as a specific example of racism taken to its most violent extreme and replacing it with the term "holocausts." This substitution not only eliminates the uniqueness of the Holocaust but also seems to be the latest manifestation of Arab propaganda to deny or diminish it.

The conference can and must acknowledge all human tragedies related to racism, without minimizing or trivializing the Holocaust but rather focusing on lessons learned from it. Events such as the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia have resulted in new universal principles that have advanced international humanitarian and human rights law and international standards. Member states must draw upon the lessons from these events to develop new means to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Both as a matter of justice, and to ensure that the conference will not be tainted as have others in the past, Western democracies, especially Britain, Germany, France and the United States, must actively oppose the destructive propositions at the preparatory conference now taking place in Geneva. If these democratic countries exert their historic leadership role by sounding the alarm, the tide of support for this language can be turned.

Reports from Durban Conference
Durban Update: Final Declaration Recognizes Palestinian Right of Return; Omits Language Critical of Israel (09/8/01)
Durban Update: Parties Deadlocked on Mideast (09/07/01)
Conference Continues Without U.S. and Israel (09/05/01)
Anti-Jewish, Anti-Israel Language Prompts U.S., Israel to Leave U.N. Conference (09/04/01)
Opening Day of the UN World Conference On Racism (08/31/01)
Anti-Israel Hecklers Interrupt Press Conference (08/30/01)
Anti-Israel Rhetoric Prevalent at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism (08/29/01)
Background on
Durban Conference
About the UN World Conference Against Racism
ADL Call to Conscience for All Nations
Background on Anti-Zionism at the United Nations
What is Zionism?
World Figures Refute the Zionism=Racism Charge
The Draft Declaration: Unfair Charges of Racism Against Israel
ADL Statements on Durban
ADL Letters to Media about the U.N. World Conference
Durban Derailed into a Conference of Hate
Abraham H. Foxman on the Durban Conference
Press Releases:

ADL Commends U.S. Rejection of Anti-Jewish, Anti-Israel Bias of U.N. Conference Against Racism (8/27/01)

ADL Urges Congress To Reject Incendiary Language Against Jews, Israel At Upcoming U.N. Conference Against Racism (7/31/01)

ADL Urges Foreign Ministers to Reject Anti-Jewish Rhetoric at U.N. Conference on Racism (7/17/01)

ADL Urges U.N. Members to Reject Anti-Israel Focus at Forum Against Racism (5/18/01)

ADL to President George W.Bush

ADL to Foreign Ministers of U.N. Members

Related ADL Articles:
Israel and the UN

Related Web Sites:
UN World Conference Against Racism

The United Nations
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