Washington Post Drops the Ball on Durban II Prep

As the April 2009 U.N. meetings in Geneva — dubbed Durban II echoing the infamous anti-Semitic 2001 gathering in Durban, South Africa — draw closer, important questions about what will be discussed and who will attend have intensified. On February 27, the U.S. made a long-awaited decision in the direction of not attending.

Before this, a preparatory conference in mid-February began the process of formulating topics to be debated and presented opportunities for participating nations to shape aspects of the agenda. What did the U.S. delegation do at the week-long gathering ahead of the upcoming “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”?

Washington Post veteran U.N. correspondent Colum Lynch, (“U.S. Hold Firms on Reparations, Israel in U.N. Racism Talks,” February 20), reported that it pressed foreign governments “to drop reparation demands for slavery and to desist from singling out Israel for criticism in a draft declaration” to be presented at the full conference.

But U.N. monitor and specialist in International Law Anne Bayefsky, who edits the EYEontheUN  Web site, says American delegates did nothing of the sort. In a Forbes.com story  (“The Obama Administration Sacrifices Israel,” February 22), she notes that State Department officials and a member of the American Durban II delegation claimed the U.S. “had worked actively to oppose efforts to brand Israel as a racist in the committee drafting a Durban II declaration.” But she cites multiple instances in which this appears not to be accurate.

The Post’s Lynch, however, omits any reference to Bayefsky or to the facts she cites that raise questions about the seemingly self-serving claims of action by State.

The State Department’s February 20 press release, echoed by The Post, says the United States “outlined … our strong reservations about the direction of the conference, as the draft document singles out Israel for criticism.”

Bayefsky observes that “In fact … in a Geneva hall with few observers, the U.S. has done just the opposite.” American delegates “had made no objection to a new proposal to nail Israel in an anti-racism manifesto that makes no other country-specific claims.”

Bayefsky writes that the Palestinian Arab delegation proposed a new paragraph in the draft document on victims of discrimination. The language “‘calls for … the international protection of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.’ In other words, it claims that the Palestinian people are victims of Israeli racism and demands that all U.N. states provide protection from the affronts of the racist Jewish state.”

In addition, Bayefsky asserts that the new Palestinian provision “calls for … implementation of international legal obligations, including the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice” that claimed Israel’s West Bank security barrier is illegal. She charges that “This is a dramatic attempt to change an ‘advisory opinion’ into a ‘legal obligation’ – a status which attaches to no advisory opinion.”

Washington has rejected the ICJ opinion, “hitherto,” Bayefsky writes. “And with good reason. The Egyptian judge had voiced his opinion on the result before the case was even heard … and the documents [the General Assembly] laid before the Court predetermined the outcome. …. [A]s the strong dissent by the American judge and Holocaust survivor Tom Buergenthal pointed out, the Court came to its preposterous conclusion that ‘the right of legitimate or inherent self-defense is not applicable in the present case’ without considering ‘the deadly terrorist attacks to which Israel is being subjected.'”

“But,” charges Bayefsky, “when the Palestinian delegation laid their new proposal before the drafting committee,” the U.S. delegation “made no objection at all.” This means, she adds, that the Palestinian paragraph was not placed in dispute, “and the diplomatic rule of thumb is that paragraphs that have not been flagged as controversial cannot be reopened for discussion, as negotiations finalize an end product.”

American diplomats also said nothing when Iran blocked a new European Union provision “to ‘condemn without reservation any denial of the Holocaust'” and urge “all states to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full, or in part, or any activities to this end.” According to Bayefsky, “Iran – whose president is a Holocaust-denier – immediately objected and insisted that the proposal be ‘bracketed’ or put in dispute. The move blocked the adoption of the proposal and ensured another battle over the reality of the Holocaust in April – at these supposedly ‘anti-racism’ meetings.”

Over the week-long negotiations the American delegation did object to specific proposals, Bayefsky added. These included banning “profiling”of potential crime suspects and undermining free speech criticism of religions and religious scriptures and symbols.

Bayesky says E.U. delegates “confirmed that their silence on the Palestinian proposal was deliberate, commenting off-camera that the references to Israeli racism had already been made in the Durban I Declaration, and the purpose of Durban II is to implement Durban I.”

What about the United States?

The Post quoted an American delegate that U.S. participation in the preparatory conference was “a fact-finding mission; it’s just a first step …. Negotiations will probably resume in March or early April.”

Gregg J. Rickman, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, 2006 – 2009, published a commentary headlined “Boycott Durban II” for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on February 18. Noting the U.N.’s long history of attempting to isolate and delegitimize Israel, Rickman recalled that Libya had chaired the initial Durban II preparatory committee, with Iran and Cuba among the vice chairs. He pointed out that Geneva conference, overlapping Israel’s April 21 observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, ironically “promises to repeat the unbridled eliminationist hatred … of Israel.”

The Washington Post prides itself on its record of investigative journalism, of not being a “stenographer” to officials. When it comes to coverage of the United Nations and Durban II, it needs to dig deeper.