The World Council of Churches Made Durban Worse

On September 22, 2011, the United Nations will host a “commemoration” of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that took place in Durban South Africa in 2001.

The fact that the UN’s General Assembly would choose to commemorate this conference, which has gone down in the annals of history as an anti-Semitic hate-fest is frankly, shocking.

At this conference, Arab and Muslim extremists from the Middle East and their allies from the radical left in Europe and the U.S. were able to convince the gathered assembly to affirm an amalgam of ritualistic charges of genocide, racism and ethnic cleansing targeted at Israel.

Jews were singularly denied the right to participate in proceedings at the conference because they could not be “objective.” Security officials told representatives of Jewish groups that their safety could not be guaranteed. Protesters carried signs stating that if Hitler had finished the job there were would be no state of Israel and no Palestinian suffering. During the conference a Jewish doctor was beaten by people wearing checkered keffiyehs – the symbol of the Palestinian cause – who said Jews were the cause of all the problems in the Middle East. One local Jewish leader attributed the attack to the atmosphere at the UN Conference.

In light of this, one would think that the international diplomatic community would regard the 2001 Durban as an embarrassment and not worthy of “commemoration.”

In fact, a number of countries have decided to boycott the event for fear that it will provide anti-Semites yet another platform to assail the Jewish state. It is what happened at a follow up to the 2001 Durban conference held in 2009. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map used the 2009 event as a platform to assail Israel.

Nevertheless, if one is going to have a commemoration of the 2001 conference, it is appropriate to bring to mind those decisions that helped turn the event into a hate-fest where Israel was demonized and where leaders of Jewish organizations were told their safety could not be guaranteed.

In particular, it is important to note the role the World Council of Churches played in turning Durban I into a hate-fest.

What the WCC Did

The World Council of Churches sent a 35-member delegation to the Durban Conference which began on Aug. 26, 2001 and ended on Sept. 7, 2001.

At the conference attendees from non-governmental organizations from throughout the world deliberated on a draft document that condemned racism but made no reference to the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. The document also singled Israel out as guilty of ethnic cleansing and genocide, prompting diplomats from a number of countries to walk out.

There were three paragraphs dealing with the issue of anti-Semitism, the last of which read as follows:

We are concerned with the prevalence of antizionism and attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel through wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, as a virulent contemporary form of anti-Semitism leading to firebombing of synagogues, armed assaults against Jews, incitements to killing, and the murder of innocent Jews, for their support for the existence of the State of Israel, the assertion of the right to self-determination of the Jewish people and the attempts, through the State of Israel, to preserve their cultural and religious identity.

This paragraph was spot on in its assessment of how false accusations of genocide against Israel (which ironically were leveled at the UN conference) generated racist hostility toward Jews throughout the world.

Nevertheless, the WCC’s delegation recommended that this paragraph be deleted.

An report on the Durban Conference published by B’Nai Brith Canada describes what happened:

… the World Council of Churches speaking for the Ecumenical Caucus, proposed the deletion from the text on antisemitism the paragraph protesting anti-Zionism. Their reason was that this clause contradicted the pro-Palestinian clauses elsewhere in the document. The chair called a vote on this proposed deletion, without giving the Jewish Caucus, or, indeed, anyone, an opportunity to speak to it.
Several caucuses abstained, but only four, the Jewish, European Caucus, Roma and Eastern and Central European Caucuses, voted against. After this vote, the Jewish Caucus and the Eastern and Central European Caucus walked out. The Asian Descendants Caucus subsequently told the Jewish Caucus that they were so confused by what was going on that they voted in favour even though they intended to voted against.

A report written by the WCC’s delegation to Durban reports that it called for the deletion of this paragraph because it “was of the opinion that the clause added little strength of the previous two paragraphs.” The report continues:

But more importantly, the text was confusing in its structure in that it mixed the Jewish people with the State of Israel and implied whatever criticism was made of the State of Israel was to be regarded as anti-Semitic. This opinion was shared by every other Caucus except one and its deletion was greeted with applause.

This justification is remarkable in its evasiveness. The paragraph that was deleted was quite explicit in condemning “wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing an apartheid” and pointing out that these accusations led to violence against Jews throughout the world. It did not imply that “criticism” of Israel was anti-Semitic. The point this paragraph was trying to make was confirmed in a number of subsequent events, such as:

1. The murder of a French Jew, Ilan Halimi in Paris in 2005. Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew, was kidnapped, tortured for three weeks, stabbed and left to die at a train station on the outskirts of Paris by Muslims who had anti-Israel literature in their apartments. His torture took place in the basement of a public housing project. People knew of his suffering and did not call the police.

2. The murder of Pamela Waechter, an employee of the Jewish Federation in Seattle in 2006. Waechter was shot to death at the height of the Hezbollah War by a man describing himself as a Muslim-American “angry at Israel.” The killer was later discovered to be suffering from mental illness, but ju st as John Salvi who killed two women at an abortion clinic in Boston in 1994, was encouraged by the highly-charged atmosphere surrounding the debate over abortion in the U.S., the anti-Jewish fringe is energized by hostile rhetoric coming out of the Middle East.

3. The plight of Jews in Malmo, Sweden. Jews are fleeing Malmo in droves as anti-Semitic attacks, perpetrated mostly by Muslim immigrants have increased substantially. Malmo’s mayor stated these are merely a consequence of Israeli policies in the Middle East.

4. The display of anti-Semitic imagery at anti-Israel rallies in the U.S. during Israel’s fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip during the winter of 2008-09. Protesters carried signs equating the Start of David with the Nazi Swastika, a clear expression of anti-Semitism. At one rally, a woman called for Jews to “go back to the oven.”

By calling for the deletion of the paragraph quoted above from the draft document at Durban I, the WCC’s delegation gave churchly cover to the process by which anti-Zionism has been used to generate hostility toward Jews throughout the world.

The WCC delegation also failed to respond to the anti-Semitic hate that was so evident at the conference and in the document that was approved by the assembly. In response to the controversy over what happened at Durban, the WCC’s delegation merely stated “there are some statements in the NGO forum document which are outside the WCC’s policy framework, and which the WCC cannot support, such as: equating Zionism with racism, describing Israel as an apartheid state, and the call for a general boycott of Israeli goods. This does not detract from the WCC’s support for the document as a whole.”

The Durban Conference turned into an anti-Jewish hatefest, and the best the WCC’s delegation could do was say it disapproved some statements that were “outside the WCC’s policy framework.”

The WCC’s actions at Durban in 2001 were shameful and should not be forgotten.

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