Friday, June 17, 2011

Durban III: The Good News and the Bad News

by Claudia Rosett @

In the United Nations cosmos of Orwellian ventures, one of the prominent features has become the series of conferences named for an initial 2001 conclave in Durban, South Africa. That gathering was supposed to be about fighting racism. Instead, it became a debauch of anti-Semitic Israel-bashing so extreme that then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out. That conference is now known as Durban I.

With the aim of building on the achievements of Durban I, the UN followed up in 2009 with Durban II, also known as the Durban Review Conference. That was held in Geneva, Switzerland, amid the manicured flowerbeds, peacock-bedecked lawns and BMW-filled parking lots of the UN’s Palais des Nations, former home to the failed League of Nations. Durban II is most memorable for having featured, as a star speaker, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Obama administration decided close to the last minute to boycott that conference. Ahmadinejad’s speech triggered a walkout by a host of Western delegates. Pajamas Media’s Roger Simon and I had gone to Geneva to cover Durban II (we found ourselves staying in a hotel where Ahmadinejad had booked 40 rooms to accommodate his entourage) and when the conference fizzled into a gross embarrassment for the UN, thanks to Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying style, Roger quite reasonably hoped that might mean an end to the Durban “process.”

The UN General Assembly decided otherwise. A Durban III conference is now scheduled for Sept. 22, this time at UN headquarters, in New York, timed to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly. Officially, it is styled as a 10th anniversary commemoration of the original 2001 Durban I conference. That was an event so hate-filled and grotesque that one might suppose the UN would wish either to forget it, or apologize for it — not commemorate it. But that’s not how things work at the UN, where standard operating procedure of the General Assembly is that U.S. taxpayers supply the biggest share of the money, and outfits like the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, or the 131 members of the so-called Group of 77 (presided over in 2009 by Sudan), decide how to spend it.

The good news is that the Obama administration has finally decided to boycott Durban III. As UN Watch reports, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York led a coalition of 18 senators who months ago called on the U.S. administration to follow the lead set by Canada, and pull out. On June 1, the State Department sent Gillibrand a letter saying the U.S. “will not participate” in Durban III, and had voted against the General Assembly resolution establishing this event “because the Durban process included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we did not want to see that commemorated.”

The bad news is that the UN is still going ahead with Durban III. The next “consultation on the scope, modalities, format and organization of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” is scheduled for this Friday, at 10 A.M., in the UN’s General Assembly Hall in New York. The “co-facilitators” of these consultations, the ambassadors of Monaco and Cameroon, sent a letter on May 27th to the president of the General Assembly, Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss, inviting him to draw up a list of NGO representatives to attend Durban III. That’s not reassuring, given Deiss’s record as the General Assembly president who this past March employed the UN’s General Assembly Hall as the extravagant and utterly inappropriate venue for the U.S. premiere of a movie trashing Israel.

An Obama administration boycott of Durban III is a good start (though Inner-City Press reports that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, describes it not as a boycott, but, more euphemistically, an act of non-participation). But even if the U.S. does not participate — indeed, even if the U.S. refuses to fork out the money for the conference itself — U.S. taxpayers are still bankrolling the biggest share of the facilities, the amenities, and even the security that will enable this conference. American taxpayers are footing the biggest share of the bill for the current $2 billion renovation of the UN’s New York headquarters, where the organizers of Durban III are now availing themselves of the meeting halls. American taxpayers pay for 22% of the UN’s core budget, and the U.S. hosts its tax-exempt headquarters and tax-exempt diplomatic missions. Americans foot the bill for ensuring that when Ahmadinejad comes to New York to swagger on the UN stage, as he has done at every General Assembly opening since 2005, he will have a safe visit. The organizers of Durban III, as explained by the “co-facilitatators” of the preparations, the ambassadors of Monaco and Cameroon, are very much hoping that this “commemoration” will be a summit event, studded with heads of state and government.

In other words, if the Obama administration is serious about rejecting the malicious Durban “process,” then steering clear of the actual pow-wow ought to be just the beginning. Nor is the issue the variable cost of the conference itself. The U.S. has a massive investment of many billions of dollars, as well as its own good name, in the enormous fixed costs of the institution of the UN itself. That is what the devotees of Durban III and the Durban “process” are already abusing, yet again. The beginning of a real answer here is not just “non-participation” in Durban III, or even a largely symbolic withholding of some fraction of the variable cost of this latest outrage. Real progress might come if and when the U.S. greets such stunts as Durban III by withholding from the UN sums of money spectacular enough so that even the likes of Monaco, Cameroon and Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss start asking themselves whether the pleasures of such bigotry are worth the cost.

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