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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Racism summit: Were the US and Israel right to pull out?
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The US and Israel have pulled out of the UN Conference on Racism in Durban.
The American delegation had objected to what it called "hateful" anti-Israeli language being used in documents, but had failed to have it removed.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "I have instructed our representatives to the World Conference Against Racism to return home".
The conference has also been beset by rows over reparations for slavery and other disagreements.
Were the US and Israel right to pull out? What happens now? How should the conference proceed?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Patricia Long, Australia
The issues at the UN Conference are far reaching issues that the international community should give very serious consideration to. As a black man, I am not necessarily interested in a compensation package from former slave masters but feel that slavery should be recognised as the crime that it is.
The simple and hard truth that the summit failed to discuss was the death of millions of Africans in the last decade because of the internal racism that exists in the continent. As the old saying goes "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."
Both the US government and Israel have double-standards. One for themselves and the other for, of course, "the others"
This can't work.
It's about time some leaders realised that they can be in the wrong sometimes. Israel should stand up and take the responsibility for its deplorable military action and the Palestinian state should do the same for the actions of its militant groups such as Hamas. And the USA? I'm sick of the USA and its pitiful sympathetic attitude towards Israel. How can we ever reach peace in the world's trouble spots when our leaders continually blame others and fail to take responsibility.
Colin Powell does NOT represent the
majority of black Americans. He and
other black Republicans are quite
lonely on the political scene despite
Bush administration efforts to parade
them about on television. American
media have disgracefully covered the
conference; it barely registers on
the evening news, and we have to
visit the BBC to read about it. Some
say the conference is a farce, but I
think it's a start; any talking about
racism is better than not talking about
racism. And for Mr. Andrew Stack of
the USA, tofu is a Japanese, not
Willie Deon, U.S.
Why do so many people assume that by being the only democratic country in the Middle East, that somehow makes them exempt from adhering to international laws and standards? Surely it is they that must have the most pressure applied to them, since they have the ability to choose which route they take, that of ethnic cleansing based on nationality and language, or that of co-existence based on equality and human rights. Democracy is a blessing which is burdened with responsibility which Israel has definitely been abusing. I don't believe it is plausible to withdraw from the conference on the basis that "other countries are worse than us".
The very same states, which persecute women, homosexuals, people from different religions and people who dare expressing different views, have gathered to carryout a political onslaught against the only democracy in the Middle East. "Ridiculous" is not a strong enough expression to describe this farce - it is simply pathetic. No reasonable country should take a part in this pro-racism conference.
K Antwi-Boasiako, Ghana, West Africa
This was expected. Why express shock? Anything to preserve self-benefit or shirk from responsibility when the cause is for general benefit from powerful countries is not a new concept. You can brag about it by giving the real fact - Jews are the powerhouse of America - they provide the funding etc., but America also needs oil - what to do? Maintain a status quo. That's your solution.
If the US and Israel were that upset they should have stayed and convinced people of why Zionism is not racist. What is the US trying to avoid? Is it supporting Israel or just escaping the pressure of the slavery debate and its own poor racial record.
Why is the USA such a big baby about everything? The world is beginning to realise this, and I am beginning to resent my own country because of its asinine behaviours and horrible leadership. They were not right to pull out - such an important conference needs the presence of the more powerful countries.
Maybe 10% of Americans even know about this conference. We go about our business very happy to let the rest of the world go on with their business. Next time the conference should be in Las Vegas so everyone can chill out and get down to the real issue of this entire charade - money!
Instead of NGO's and Third world countries focussing on all the old wrongs why don't they look in their own backyards. Every culture and tribe is xenophobic and racist by nature. It is hardwired into us from prehistoric times. The challenge is to recognize it in ourselves and to act first as decent human beings within our local circle of influence. I've lived and worked in North America, Europe and Africa. The barbarian is never far from the surface in all of us. He wears many masks: mujihadin, child soldiers of Sierra Leone, slave traders of Sudan, settlers of Israel, street gangs, skinheads, narcotic-guerrillas of Columbia, corrupt politicians and corrupt police forces, some multinationals. The Durban Conference is a morally bankrupt failure.
I am sick and tired of the so called
superior and enlightened Europeans.
You gave the world Communism and
Fascism which resulted in the death
of millions around the globe.
What a gift - now you have the nerve
to tell others how they should
feel about their self determination. Your empires caused half of
the problems in this world, your touchy feely
politics are causing the rest. Give it a rest
and go eat your tofu!
As a Muslim I have no quarrel with Jews. And we must distinguish between opposing Israel and anti-Semitism. In Muslim world you will find people who hate Jews but this is more to do with ignorance and state propaganda. But it will change. There should be condemnation of Israel's actions against Palestinians but also condemnation for governments that treat their people badly (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, USA) irrespective of race.
I hope it is sooner rather than later for the US to realise that its support (political/ military/ financial) for Israel, because of the strong Israeli Zionist lobby in the US, is not worth the world isolation it is facing right now.
Vivek Manchanda, India
Instead of attending the conference and debating the tabled motions, the USA and its 53rd state, Israel, have shown the world once again that having a monopoly on military and fiscal power, doesn't mean a corresponding monopoly on the ability to be self-critical and to be able to face criticism and rebut it if necessary. Instead the two countries have stormed off like little kids who've failed to get their way in the playground.
Gershon Shapiro, USA
However much disagreement there might be, no country should walk out on something this important. They must at least remain and argue their case. It is an immature and childish response. Britain too in its inability to even discuss the case for reparation for slavery is shameful, as is the paragraph which does not recognise the rights of indigenous peoples, which the UK and US is seeking to implement. We should at least 'talk' about it, and not let the fear of the legal implications of admittance of historical guilt deter us from the overall positive message of this conference.
Israel and the Palestinians, much like the situation in Northern Ireland, seem like two kids fighting with each other playing a game of "got you last." What really needs to happen is for one of the countries to be the bigger of the two and choose not to retaliate. Talk of whether Zionism is racist only serves to complicate the issues. People are being killed - stop the talking, and get on with stopping THAT.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait the whole world removed him within a certain time. When Israel took Palestinian land no leader bothered about it. What is the reason behind the scenes? Why are the US always in favour of Israel?
The American people also condemn Israel for their crimes. It's the American Jews who don't give a damn about the USA that are pulling out of this important conference.
I didn't vote for Bush and I don't care for the man but his administration did the right thing. I am sorry for Annan and Robinson but their conference's real topics were debt relief and Israel. It was an old fashioned third world show.
It took many years and much persuasion to get the world to turn against Apartheid South Africa, and I can only wonder how long it will take before it does the same against Apartheid Israel.
The Palestinians made a big mistake. They should not have pushed the question of whether or not Zionism is racist. That just raises all kinds of red flags. The question should have been whether the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is racist. It is, and the US would not have walked over that question. Once again, the Palestinian insistence on rhetorical excess has harmed the cause of Palestinian independence.
Amit Tonse, US
No, simply put, these two countries can't be right, and the rest of the world at fault. Indeed it is good to see the world finally standing up to the Israeli crimes against humanity, at least by telling them that what they are doing is wrong. No one should get away with occupying a sovereign nation, killing its children, imprisoning its people, and destroying their homes. If all these can't be called racism then what else could it be.
The US and Israel were absolutely correct in withdrawing from the Durban Conference. Zionism never has been racism - it is only the legitimate right of Jews to live in their ancestral home. Every Arab citizen of Israel has the same civil rights as Jews. What the Arab League did was repackage the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to fit their own political agenda.
I refer to the quote from US Congressman Tom Lantos (Sept 03) that the Durban Conference has been taken over by Arab and Muslim extremists and that "..this is as plain as the noses on our faces" - I think Mr Lantos will agree that he cannot see his own nose, and in order to see it he has to look into the mirror. The mirror here is obviously 90% of world opinion at the Durban Conference - unless of course he wants to cover it with misty phrases.
John, Kentucky, United States
As a US citizen, I am sadden that both the Bush administration and the current congress funds guns and planes without question to displace people and deny them their basic freedom. What happened to honesty, liberty, and justice for all?
The truth remains that the delegates tabled the issue that no one is allowed to discuss, i.e. the truth of Zionism and the false and unjust foundations upon which the state of Israel was built. Obviously, the forthcoming repercussions are clear: the conference will be deemed a failure if not given a more sinister label, because the US and the Jewish lobbyists say so and because the conference dared open a file which no one is allowed to address.
It's the first time I actually agree with a decision made by this American administration. That the Palestinians and Arafat have hijacked the conference speaks for itself. Now that the USA is no longer part of this debacle, whatever "results" they agree upon will have little legitimacy.
This childlike behaviour of walking out of the conference reminds me of the childlike behaviour of some of the Arab States' representatives walking out of Arab Summit Conferences in the past. It is always wise in diplomacy to be well prepared from the onset. Having created a controversial agenda on racism by the UN would have required more time, probably many more years to prepare for such a summit. The UN is the culprit as the weak leader bringing in people to disagree. The timing was wrong for this agenda. It is like offering your guests to eat uncooked food. The hungry would be more than pleased to eat. The less hungry would choose not to eat.
Marc, Austria (Ex N.Ireland)
What a disgrace that the US and Israel should walk out.
What hope is there if these countries can't
even talk. And we wonder why people resort
to violence? Are the thousands of organisations
condemning what is going on in Israel all wrong?
Why don't we ask the Palestinians men, women, and children
whether they are victims of racism? Instead
of making false statements that they have the same rights and quality
of life as the Israelis.
Every single time the pro-Israelis bring
up the atrocities in the past and accuse everyone
of being against Jews once again.
So if people commit massacres against Jews
everyone must be outraged, but if the Jews
commit massacres against others
then we mustn't even talk about it!
Racism is part of being human. It is an instinct acquired during our pre-human development, and is as strong as our revulsion at disease and deformity, or our fear of snakes. These are animal survival instincts and must be acknowledged. At the same time we should have evolved enough intelligence to recognise these instincts and keep them under control. So my point is that everyone is inclined to be racist. Racism is not something that those nasty whites do to those nice blacks, it's something the majority population do to the minority. Look at Zimbabwe. We will never get to grips with racism until we all recognise this truth. The first declaration the South African conference should make is "We are ALL racist. Now what are we going to do about it?"
If the delegates at the World Conference Against Racism were truly serious about dealing with injustice, they would not just
focus on Israel and Zionism, but would condemn all religious-based governments. This would include countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan where Islam is the state religion and non-Muslims are imprisoned, tortured, and even put to death. And this condemnation would include a number of European nations which still have state-sponsored religions, even if these religions are not strongly supported and people of different views are not actively harassed. And the delegates would be justified in criticizing Americans, such as President Bush, who try to force religion into places where it does not belong, including the United States Government and American public schools.
It seems we all have conveniently short memories when it suits us. For many years, black residents of South Africa suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the white ruling minority. Now, just ten years later, we are seeing an entirely similar form of "apartheid" in Israel. But because the British government along with their western allies were the ones who set up the Israeli nation in 1947, it seems acceptable to ignore these new atrocities.
I believe the U.S. was right to pull out of the conference. While the goal to discuss the issue was admirable, it was foolish to hold a conference without an already agreed upon agenda limited to manageable scopes and topics. From what I've read of the conference here on the BBC and elsewhere it appears to be little more than a "my problem is worse than yours" festival. What a waste. It would have been a much better, though less headline grabbing, idea to hold not a WCAR but a world conference on clean water or virtually any other topic.
The issue in the Middle East is a Gordian knot of ancient animosities, modern rivalries and enough blame to go around for everyone several times. For it to have been made a prime topic was idiotic in the extreme.
A conference on racism is a good idea, although it must tackle racism from all races. If there has been detrimental language against one of the conference attendees it needs investigating, but to be honest there are too many people hiding behinds racism laws and action such as this seems pointless. The documents should have at least been screened by a member of each delegation long before now and corrections made. At least there wouldn't be a fuss.
Lastly I would say that the conference should put equal emphasis on the persecuted white farmers being murdered by black extremist terrorists in Zimbabwe as it does on other forms of racial violence. Not just white against black but Serb against Croat, Catholic against Protestant, Israeli against Palestinians - it's all racially motivated.
I was once told that when you point your finger, three others point back at you. This is certainly the case with this UN conference. All that has been achieved is a manifestation of hatred from the Arab League. Would there be a peace process if the Arab nations had the greater military strength? Of course not...Did the Israeli's begin the Intifada within a week of the failure of Camp David?
However, no side has complete control of the moral high ground. The rights of the Palestinian people to statehood are unarguable. Most
Jews accept this. But the question is, does Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, Fatah, Hamas and more importantly, do the Palestinians
accept the reality of Eretz Israel?
This was not a "conference against racism," it was a "conference advocating racism". What a disgrace, that the most racist countries in the world gang up to attack Israel. The UN is living up to its reputation as "United Nothing."
Mustafa, London, UK
Unfortunately, the summit was a farce from the outside. It includes many north African countries that still illicitly practise slavery, as well as many countries with appalling human rights records on every front. Most of the summit has looked like a grievance competition rather than a reasoned attempt to get to grips with a serious issue. We would in any case be better off addressing human rights in general, not just those abuses that are understood as "racist" in intent. Torture and murder are torture and murder regardless of whether the motive is "racist".
The US and Israel were right to pull out, and Europe should follow. This summit has done a disservice to the fight against the many and various injustices in the world.
No, because behind smoke there's always fire, right? What should be happening at these summits is that people should be sitting down and discussing problems, not acting like juveniles in the playground and refusing to talk about it.
It appears rather stupid calling Israel or Zionism racist it is the Arab countries surrounding Israel who never once allowed the Palestinians to intergrate into their Society when they really needed it.
I'd like to see how "racism" is defined by the conference, because if the anti-Jewish vendetta the Arabs and Muslim States have initiated against Israel's Jews at the NGO convention in Durban is any indication, the UN is playing fast and loose with it.
The Middle East conflict is a religious conflict and a political conflict, not a conflict over race, at least as far as Israelis are concerned (as if anybody is going to ask us). A walk on any street in Israel reveals that Jews are multi-racial, having returned from all parts of the world to their root in the Middle East.
Since Palestinians or anybody else can become Jewish, but no Jew can become an Arab unless he is one already, just who is being racist in a conflict that has Arabs defining 90% of all Jews as strangers to their ancient Homeland? The answer is that Palestinianism, which requires the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Gaza be uprooted (if not in all of Ancient Israel) is racism and discriminatory, not Zionism.
The conference's efforts would have been better spent on the real racial conflicts facing the world, leaving the political and religious conflicts for another day.
The history repeats itself.
Here once again we find rightwing American president and our country's PM stand together to support Evil. We supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa and defended it for so long until the system fully collapsed. Now we are siding with terrorist state of Israel, which was built on blood by mostly Russian rejects, and the massacre of innocent people from its inception, and continued until today demolishing poor people's homes and stealing their land in violation of every basic human right. Everyone sees the evil of Zionism and the terror it is bringing to unarmed people except...! I hope that Mr Bush and Mr Blair leave the Jewish pressure groups and speak the truth! Or look back at recent history of SA!
Please don't edit my words as often the words are twisted when it comes to denunciate the evils of the rightwing Israeli leadership and their murders! Thank very much.
Lets face it, racism works both ways. Unfortunately, it is our own biases that allow us to see only one side of the story.
Lets look at the Middle East. On the one hand, you have Israel, who want a Jewish homeland for Jewish people. Of course Muslims will feel they are being discriminated against.
On the other hand, you have Palestinians, who want the one non-Muslim nation in the region replaced by a Muslim nation. Here, of course, Jews would feel discriminated against.
Why is it only Zionism is being equated with racism? Simple because there are enough Muslim countries to force the issue.
Racism works both ways. Neither side is without faults.
But it is of no consequence anyway. Since when has the UN been anything more than all bark but no bite? They can pass all the resolutions they want, they are still powerless.
With so much anti-Semitism going on currently in Durban, no wonder it is called the Racism Summit and not the Anti-Racism Summit. Just one thing on the controversy concerning Zionism. There are 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel and who enjoy every privilege given to a Jew including education and pension. Why aren't those Arabs demonstrating in Durban as proof that Israel has a fair society. Not only do they have citizenship, but they don't get conscripted in the army. Concerning the Palestinian authority, is there such a thing as a Jewish Palestinian? They want a Judenrein Palestinian state. What a bunch of racists!
There's absolutely nothing - and I mean NOTHING - remotely racist about genuine Zionism and it should never have made it on to the agenda for the UN conference. It's a (not exclusively Jewish) belief that Jews should be allowed to live in the land of their Bible. Zionists don't believe that they're any better than anyone else. There's nothing in Zionism to say that Jews should be the only ones to live in the Land, either. In fact, around 15% of Israel's citizens are Arabs. Muslim and Christian citizens have exactly the same legal rights as Jews, including the right to vote, and there are several very well-known and vocal members of the Israeli parliament who are Arabs, including a cabinet minister. This doesn't sound racist to me. It sounds like people attack Zionism because it's no longer "socially acceptable" or "PC" to attack Judaism and they daren't do so in public, so they target Zionism instead because they think they can get away with it. The UN conference on racism was hijacked before it started by people seeking to hurt Israel because it doesn't happen to be totally Arab. Those people, who have been distributing anti-Semitic literature to delegates in Durban, are the real racists and as long as they are allowed to set the agenda, there is no hope for meetings of this kind.
As an American, I don't understand how we can refuse to talk about an issue that a significant portion of the world wants to discuss, and still call ourselves global leaders.
I imagine I am probably a small voice in the US, but there are at least some of us who are ashamed about our government's actions.
The US under George W Bush has refused to lead yet again. We are witnessing the bankruptcy in ideas of the Bush administration in most unfortunate ways.
Israelis and Jews cannot hold the world hostage and make us go on a guilty trip about the holocaust every time their conduct in the Middle East is mentioned. That is what they have excelled in doing and the media helps them.
Zionism is racist! Israel is committing atrocities against the Palestinian people because they use disproportionate force and know that they have the backing of the one and only super power!
This kind of stance will only result in a backlash against Israeli and the U.S.
We concede that the problem of racism pervades the globe but Israeli and the U.S are the most notorious. Why is it that the judicial system in the U.S only processes blacks to the death chamber?
The irony of those that criticize Zionism as a form of racism ignores the fact that anti-Semitism is still state policy for most Arab governments. These same governments that refused to accept a two-state solution in 1948 are one of the reasons that the State of Israel came into existence. If these same Arab governments had not invaded the State of Israel or made war against in the past, then Israel would never have occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When are these same Arab governments going to take responsibility for this fact and why have not Palestinian Arabs held those same Arab governments responsible. Only because they would no longer hate the Jewish people if they did so. One could conclude that the Palestinian Authority and other groups still are unwilling to accept the right of State of Israel to exist. Why? Their hatred of the Jewish people. What else could inspire such mindless and inhumane acts of martyrdom. Hatred has become an ideology.
Zionism shares its intellectual roots with the German nationalism which lead to such a moral disaster for the world in the 1930's and 40's.
Like the Nazi creed, Zionism teaches that Jews cannot coexist in a society with Gentiles. Which ever way you cut it, this seems racist.
Non Jews cannot be full citizens in the State of Israel, and ID papers carry 2 designations, Jew and Non-Jew. If US Jews were made to carry papers designating them as non-WASP...... the reaction would be, rightful, condemnation of the USA.
From its origin the state of Israel has regarded the presence of the Arab population indigenous to the land of Palestine as undesirable.
The State of Israel does not truly aspire to being a democratic state based upon Citizenship, but instead a state based upon a racial/ethnic identity, similar in some respects to Nazi Germany or Apartheid South Africa.
While I believe the UN Conference on Racism to be worthwhile in and of itself, and while I recognize the unacceptable nature of the position of the Palestinians and the worthiness of their cause, I feel it necessary to point out that the ┐situation┐ (to use a favourite journalistic euphemism) in the Middle East has nothing whatsoever to do with racism. Zionism is not an ideology of racism, it is an ideology of nationalism, and while nationalist ideologies have all too often been the cause of racism, they are not necessarily inherently racist themselves. Zionism has, in recent years, become a dirty word, yet it is essentially no more than an expression of a people┐s need for self-determination, as the Palestinian uprising has been. There are many problems in the Middle East and there can be no doubt that Israel has brutally oppressed the Palestinian people, but it is a grave mistake to understand this brutality as racially motivated, when, it has, in fact, been motivated by economics and politics. It is both damaging and misleading to describe the conflict in the Middle East as a struggle between Jews and Arabs when it is simply a struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.
03 Sep 01 | Africa
US abandons racism summit
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