Durban II: Anne Bayefsky Keynote Speaker

By Shlomo Kapustin
Jewish Tribune Correspondent
Friday, 24 Sep 2008

Anne BayefskyTORONTO – Prominent international-law scholar Anne Bayefsky delivered a vigourous, fact-packed critique of the United Nations and the human rights community last week in Toronto. Her lecture, part of an event at Beth Tikvah synagogue that drew about 300 people, focused on the Durban Review Conference – commonly known as Durban II – which is slated to take place in April in Geneva.

"Durban was not a beginning and not an end of a UN-based effort to discriminate against… and destroy the Jewish state, but it is emblematic of the corruption of the fundamental principles of the UN and human rights to serve those who have no interest in human rights or freedom," said Bayefsky, referring to the United Nations’s World Conference Against Racism, which took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001.

Bayefsky, a senior fellow with the conservative Hudson Institute in the United States, is currently on leave from York University. She is also the senior editor of the watchdog group Eye on the UN.

The upshot of the 2001 event was a host of harsh condemnations of Israel, a development that prompted Bayefsky, who attended the original conference, to bill it as the UN Conference to Promote Antisemitism.

Bayefsky still has strong memories of Durban I, which also featured a gathering of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and she presented them in the form of a brief film composed mostly of photos from the experience: a Star of David overlayed with a swastika; drawings of hook-nosed Jewish men; posters bemoaning Hitler’s failed Holocaust as a missed opportunity to abort the Jewish state before birth.

According to Bayefsky, the UN has historically singled out Israel for criticism.

To wit: Out of 10 emergency sessions of its General Assembly, 6 have been devoted to Israel, the last being reconvened 15 times since 1987.

As a mark of the UN’s focus on the topic of the Palestinians, the Secretariat division that deals with the Palestinians employs 16 staffers; by contrast, the staff for the entire Asia-Pacific region numbers 22. And the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women criticized only one state – Israel – for its treatment of Palestinian women.

Another example of Israel’s unfair treatment at the hand of the UN, according to Bayefsky, concerns the newly established Human Rights Council. Its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission presided over Durban I, but was replaced with the council in 2006 due to the widely held belief in the West that it had failed to carry out its mandate. Among its members have been Sudan, perhaps best known for carrying out a genocide of its own people, and Saudia Arabia, where women’s rights are few.

The council, though, has failed to clean up its act, according to Bayefsky. While it has convened nine regular sessions dealing with all member states, it has convened four special sessions devoted just to Israel.

Bayefsky also delineated a progression of attitudes towards Israel that has been present in some human rights circles.

“First discrimination, then demonization, legitimization of violence, the denial of the right to self-defence, absence of human rights [for Israelis], denial of antisemitism and the destruction of the Jewish state.

“Following the ‘success’ of Durban I,” she said, “the aim is to isolate and destroy the Jewish state as incompatible with the United Nations and human rights.”

If Israel is a human rights problem in itself, the thinking goes, it should be demolished.

This process has continued via the work of follow-up committees whose goal has been to implement the agenda of Durban I.

While Bayefsky will travel to Geneva to report on the proceedings, she believes that it is necessary to boycott Durban II. Both Israel and the United States walked out of the original 2001 conference over attempts to adopt a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

This time around, a number of Western nations have expressed reservations about attending.

Canada made headlines when it became the first country to rule out attending. Israel, and the US in its wake, have indicated that they will likely not attend.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who is also the current President of the European Union, has raised concerns, as have some British officials, but Bayefsky said, “There’s no chance that the EU will refuse to participate,” pointing out that the conference will take place in Europe.

Even the refusal of the US to attend, which was a matter of some debate in the State Department, according to Bayefsky, is no sure thing.

If Republican senator John McCain is elected, the US won’t attend, but while the Americans haven’t been participating in any of the preparation, their public language “has left a small crack open should a President Obama decide to go despite the situation.”

The evening wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, as Bayefsky closed with some cause for optimism.

“We successfully mitigated some of the damage of Durban I. [Durban II] won’t necessarily be a mirror image.”

The Thursday-evening event was also sponsored by the Speakers Action Group and the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University. As well, it featured a short talk by Aryeh Green, the Director of Media Central in Jerusalem, about Israel’s portrayal in the media.