Tuesday, 20 September 2011
I would like to take this opportunity to make some comments about the government's decision that Australia should not attend the United Nations meeting in New York to mark the 10th anniversary of the Durban declaration against racism. The meeting, commonly referred to as Durban III, opens in New York on 22 September. A number of other countries, including the United States, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands, are also staying away from this meeting.
Support for the UN system is one of the three pillars upon which the foreign policy of our government stands, together with the US alliance and engagement with our own region. So a decision to stay away from a major UN leadership meeting is not taken lightly. However, the sad fact is that the UN's campaign to combat racism has become nothing more than the plaything of a collection of undemocratic regimes and their supporters amongst radical NGOs, who want to use the campaign to attack and demonise the Western democracies in general and Israel in particular.
We saw the ugly face of this campaign at the original Durban meeting in 2001, which was dominated by strident attacks upon the US and Israel and by open displays of anti-Semitism. The Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa distributed copies of the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The conference secretary-general, former Irish President Mary Robinson, said:
There was horrible anti-Semitism present — particularly in some of the NGO discussions. A number of people said they've never been so hurt or so harassed or been so blatantly faced with an anti-Semitism.
Let me also quote Alan Gold, an Australian NGO delegate to the Durban conference. He wrote:
I was threatened, spat upon, demonized and denigrated because I was a Jewish delegate. When I tried to give a speech, I was screamed at with the vilest Nazi propaganda I've ever heard. The League of Arab Lawyers were freely handing out cartoons of Hitler with 'If he'd won there would be no Palestinian problem' written all over them. And all the while, the UN officials looked on and said that they could do nothing.
We saw all this yet again at the Durban II meeting in Geneva in 2009, although greater efforts were made to prevent open displays of anti-Semitism on that occasion. Most Western countries either stayed away or walked out—not surprisingly when the keynote speaker was none other than President Ahmadinejad of Iran, a man whose regime shoots down peaceful demonstrators in the streets of Tehran, who denies that the Nazi Holocaust ever took place and who calls regularly for the destruction of Israel. Many have lamented the fact that the disgraceful proceedings in Durban and Geneva have discredited the essentially worthwhile objective of a UN-led world campaign against racism. Durban and Geneva certainly have discredited that objective, but I would like to consider the question of how worth while this objective really is.
Racism is the belief that there are inherent differences in people's traits and capacities due to their race, however race is defined, and that as a consequence racial discrimination—that is, different treatment of people of different races—is justified. Sixty years ago racism was widespread and often unchallenged. Segregation in the United States, apartheid in South Africa, the White Australia policy and colonial rule in many parts of the world were all based on ideas of racial superiority or racial separation. But today segregation, apartheid, White Australia and at least Western colonialism are largely if not completely gone. Virtually all Western countries have laws strictly prohibiting racial discrimination. Tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and nondiscrimination are the hallmarks of official policy all around the world. Of course, racial prejudice, intolerance and discrimination still exist, but today they lurk on the fringes of political and public life. They are the product of ignorance and fear, not of policy. I therefore question whether a global campaign led by the bureaucracy of the United Nations is really the right way to address the problem of racism today.
My doubts are reinforced when I read the Durban declaration—the document produced which the Durban III conference in New York will shortly be asked to reaffirm. It consists of 26,000 words of ritual denunciation of racism, colonialism, slavery and xenophobia in all their forms, past and present. But as a guide to action it is completely useless. The principal reason for this is the gross hypocrisy of so many participants in the Durban process, both governments and NGOs. All of their wrath is directed at the West, particularly the US and Israel, and at none of the countries where the evils so loudly denounced in the Durban declaration are actually to be found. For example, the declaration condemns slavery as practised by Europeans and Americans in the past, but it does not mention Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania or Nigeria, where, tragically, slavery continues to flourish today. It condemns colonialism but it does not mention Chinese rule over Tibet or Russia's conflicts in Chechnya. It condemns genocide but makes no mention of Sudan's genocidal, racist war against the African peoples of Darfur.
It seems that the Durban conference and its successors, and the angry NGOs who mill around the conference fringes, are only interested in condemning one country—and that is Israel. While the Syrian regime is massacring its own people day in, day out, Israel is nonetheless held up as the arch-villain that is guilty of racism, apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Anyone who has visited Israel can see what a bizarre distortion of reality this is. There is no official or legal separation of the races in Israel, which has a 20 per cent Arab minority. Jews and Arabs live side by side, they shop in the same shops and they ride on the same buses. There are Arabs in the Knesset and on the supreme court bench. Recently, Dr Fadia Nasser Abu Alhija, an Arab woman, was appointed Professor of Education at Tel Aviv University. Could that have happened in Syria? Israel takes in more black refugees than the whole of the Arab world put together. Recently, Avi Bari, born in Guinea, became the first African-born officer in the Israeli Defence Force.
Let me make it clear that I support Labor policy on the Middle East, which is in favour of a two-state solution. That can happen as soon as the Palestinians and the Arab states are ready to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and give up their 60-year campaign to destroy it. The UN can and should play a constructive role in bringing about such a settlement. But it will not be able to do so while it allows itself to be dominated by undemocratic regimes intent on demonising Israel as a means of diverting attention from their own oppressive rule.
That is why it is depressing to see yet another international jamboree dedicated to producing empty rhetoric about racism and ritual denunciations of the United States and Israel. Australia should stand ready to join in constructive international action to secure peace in the Middle East. But the government was quite right to decide not to go to Durban III, and I commend the Prime Minister for this courageous decision.