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Remember Durban 2001?

Some people have taken a very narrow view of Barack Obama – that the color of his skin, rather than the fact that he is President of the United States – should determine his policy regarding the UN-sponsored travesty called the “World Conference Against Racism.” The Administration currently leans against participating.


Some people have taken a very narrow view of Barack Obama – that the color of his skin, rather than the fact that he is President of the United States – should determine his policy regarding the UN-sponsored travesty called the “World Conference Against Racism.” The Administration currently leans against participating.

The Washington Post yesterday quoted a senior director of the TransAfrica Forum saying, “For President Bush not to participate, that would have been expected. For Barack Obama’s administration not to participate sends a disappointing signal.” TransAfrica sent the President a letter, signed by Jessie Jackson, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The letter reads, in part, “U.S. participation in the conference is critical for both symbolic and political reasons… Reduced global participation would mark a significant setback to efforts to overcome racial inequality around the world.”

In 2001, in advance of the Durban conference, a similar group advocated that Secretary of State Colin Powell be the chief U.S. delegate to the conference, for similar symbolic reasons. Not only did he not attend, but recalled the American delegation, saying, “I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism’; or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country of the world, Israel, for censure and abuse.”

On 2 August 2001, JINSA wrote, and in 2009 still believes:

The United States has two choices:

1. To skip the conference, which will be a 1970s-style blame-the-West-for-the-ills-of-mankind gripe session anyhow; or
2. To go.

And if we go, never to stop talking. Mr. Lantos [the late Rep. Tom Lantos, the planned chief American delegate] and our other delegates have to stand in front of every microphone and speak on behalf of democracies and democratic interests – ours and Israel’s and Taiwan’s and Tibet’s. We have to bring our own microphones and denounce corrupt and intolerant dictatorships by name and in public. To speak for the right of Iraqis, Iranians, Afghan women, Sudanese and Egyptian Christians, Palestinians living under the PA, Cubans, Indonesian Chinese and Mainland Chinese to live under open, democratic and accountable leadership. And not to forget the suffering of the Lebanese, Syrian and North Korean people, brought on by their governments. To shine light on the rape of Chechnya and disfigurement of Islam when it is used as a cover for nasty and dictatorial regimes. To side with the good guys and point fingers at the bad guys. (How come only the bad guys get to point fingers?)

There are mighty moments in world politics, where real leaders can set in motion events that inspire people to take their futures into their own hands for their own betterment. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!,” and “If you will it, it is no dream,” come to mind.

Israel is going to be vilified in Durban by dictators, murderers and a few na├»ve democrats whether we are in the room or not. It is a shame, but it is the truth. Maybe the best we can do is let the people who really need a Human Rights Conference hear the world’s greatest democracy stand up for them in front of their oppressors.

We said at the time and believe today that the United States has an obligation to promote freedom, democracy and liberty. We wrote, “In the Pledge of Allegiance we call ourselves ‘one nation, indivisible’ because when we were ‘half slave and half free,’ we were fully slave and not free. It wasn’t only the States of the Union that were indivisible – our rights as Americans are indivisible by race as well.” We still have work to do, but we have the principle in hand: Human rights for any group cannot be promoted while standing on the neck of any other. This is not just about Jews or about Israel, but about all those ignored by conference organizers who blame the evils of the world on Israel and the West and absolve themselves and their cronies.

When President Obama makes a final decision about American participation – or not – in Geneva, we expect he will do it as President of the United States and all of its people. Nothing more – or less.