Durban’s 10th anniversary is no cause for celebration

Which nation doesn’t let women drive? Jails dissenters by the thousands? Beheads minors? Attacks civilians living peacefully in a neighboring nation? Persecutes homosexuals? Executes children? Encourages “honor killings”?

Unfortunately, quite a few nations can be plugged in as correct answers. But not Israel.

Yet Israel was the sole focus of a global racism conference that took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Ten years later that conference — perhaps the most open display of anti-Israel hatred ever to take place at a United Nations forum — is slated to be remembered and celebrated in New York this month.

As B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs, who will head our NGO delegation to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly this month, put it, “This celebration represents the world body’s failure to prevent the Durban process from realizing its original objectives: to discuss and combat the horrific racism and widespread intolerance that plagues many regions throughout the world.”

The 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, also known as the Durban Conference, degenerated into such a hate fest of baseless and politically motivated Israel bashing that B’nai B’rith delegates—the Jewish community’s largest representation there—along with the U.S. representative, Israeli leaders and other nongovernmental organizations of good conscience walked out in protest.

The original mission of the conference was worthwhile, laudable and highly necessary as combating global racism and intolerance is key to a more tolerant and peaceful global community. However, when this noble mission was hijacked by groups with a myopic worldview—groups that can see no wrong in nations with truly egregious human rights violations but find fault with the very existence of the Jewish state—the original conference was discredited and became devoid of meaning.

The follow-up Durban Review Conference of 2009 held in Geneva unfortunately was no better. High-level representatives to the review conference used the podium to negate the Holocaust and lambast Israel. A number of countries and Jewish NGOs again took part in a massive walkout to protest the proceedings as well as the hatred espoused by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The anti-Israel sentiments embraced in the original conference were baselessly reaffirmed in Geneva.

As B’nai B’rith said in a statement delivered by honorary president Richard Heideman to the United Nations Durban Review Conference in April 2009, “In summary, Mr. Chairman, we do not believe that a single victim of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia will have reason to find solace from this process filled with pious declarations of intent.”

Syria, Sudan, Iran, Rwanda and Zimbabwe are just a few examples of nations with deplorable human rights records and continuing systemic gross human rights violations that cry out for global attention. Nonetheless it is Israel—a true democracy—that singularly receives all the blame and all the wrongful attention of her opponents in the world.

The systematic human rights violations in countries such as Syria are where a conference to combat racism and intolerance should be focused rather than upon Israel, which respects the rule of law.

How is it possible that this U.N. process still disproportionately makes reference to Israel while putting on the sidelines states that conduct official policies of racial discrimination? The blinkered focus manages to ignore Israel’s record as a democracy with a myriad list of contributions.

Cutting-edge medical technology emanates from Israel and benefits the world. Israeli doctors treat thousands of Palestinian and Arab patients each year from multiple locations without regard to religion or national origin. Israel helps the world stay connected via its leading-edge communications inventions and innovations. Israel could easily be considered among the world’s first first-responders, often reacting faster to global natural disasters than nations that are bigger and closer.

Nevertheless, the U.N.’s revalidation of the anti-Israel focus and outcome of the original conference undermines its credibility as an overseer of global racism and rights.

It is encouraging that Durban is increasingly being recognized for the biased conference it proved to be; more and more nations are declaring that they will sit out any commemoration of Durban. Most recently, Austria, Australia and Germany joined such nations as Canada, Israel, the United States, the Czech Republic, Italy and The Netherlands, among others, in declaring that they will forego events related to “celebrating” Durban, a conference which deserves no celebration.

The message sent is that politics needs to be relegated to the margins in any remembrances of Durban.

There is some chance for a more positive outcome this time around. Some reports indicate that efforts have been made to excise the political references that single out Israel. However, there is no guarantee that the event will be anything other than more of the same.

It is the sincere wish, a decade on, that things will be different. The United Nations must return to the crucial business that the original conference never ended up addressing—focusing on how to end racism and intolerance, and making the world better for the truly oppressed and for those who truly have no voice.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which has been accredited as a U.N. NGO since 1947.

The United Nations, Durban III and Israel [VIDEO]

Black, Jewish cyclists ride together to Durban

Young black and Jewish cyclists from South Africa joined for a 400-mile journey to Durban as part of the Cycalive outreach program.

The cyclists that left for Durban on Sunday for the 14th annual relay include 40 high school juniors from Johannesburg’s Torah Academy, students from two black schools in Soweto, five Israelis and one student from Durban.

Torah Academy dean Rabbi Dovid Hazdan pledged to send 9,000 schoolbooks, donated by a sponsor, to nine underprivileged schools chosen by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

“This sends a message to the youth of South Africa to become involved as real friends, not Facebook friends, not virtual friends, not virtual anything – to be young, active and embrace a wholesome way of life,” Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said in a tribute to Hazdan, who conceived of Cycalive as a nation-building exercise long before this type of outreach became fashionable.

Hazdan announced that upon the cyclists’ return from Durban, the Soweto cyclists would each be presented with a brand new bicycle courtesy of a local sponsor.

South African group aims to put Israel on trial—again

Ten years after the notorious U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, that devolved into an Israel-bashing frenzy, anti-Zionist forces are mobilizing again to hold another anti-Israel conference in South Africa.

This time, Israel will be on trial.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine—a standing organization that held two tribunals against Israel last year in Barcelona and London—has been called for Nov . 5-6 in Cape Town “to probe whether the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories meets the criteria of the United Nations convention against the crime of apartheid.”

The South African Zionist Federation has called the event, which is to involve prominent South Africans and already is making national headlines here, “an irrelevant talk shop.”

“Despite its name, the Russell Tribunal is not an impartial, accountable judicial body,” a vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Ben Swartz, told JTA. “Rather it is a loose association of lobbyists pushing a narrow, one-sided political agenda, in this case the delegitimization of the State of Israel.”

He called it “a pointless political smear campaign by a self-appointed group of anti-Israel activists.”

But because of the attention it is receiving in South Africa, the tribunal is likely to be a damaging public relations exercise against Israel. The event has won several key endorsements in the country, including from South Africa’s leading federation of trade unions, the ruling African National Congress party, the South African Communist Party, and Zackie Achmat, the AIDS activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

While the tribunal said it invited Israel, Dov Segev-Steinberg, the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, denied the claim.

“I have not seen any approach by the tribunal to Israel or the embassy,” he told JTA. Segev-Steinberg said Israel views the tribunal as a “kangaroo court without any justification.”

Two Israelis are slated to participate in the tribunal: attorneys Michael Sfard, who has represented Israelis refusing to serve in Israeli army operations in the West Bank and is the legal counsel to Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project, and Leah Tsemel, who represents Palestinians in cases against Israel.

Ben Levitas, another vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, told JTA that the Jewish community has expressed great concern about the tribunal.

“This is not a court that reflects public opinion,” Levitas said. “They have been very selective in their choice of witnesses.”

The tribunal will meet at the District Six Museum, which was set up to commemorate some of the early forced removals of “Cape Coloreds,” as mixed-race South Africans from a particular ethnic group in Cape Town were known, from their homes and businesses under the apartheid government.

The lineup at the tribunal is an anti-Israel parade. Nobel Peace laureate and Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, a frequent critic of the Jewish state, is slated to open the proceedings.

The “jury” will include Ronnie Kasrils, the Jewish former South African minister of intelligence who gained international notoriety some 10 years ago when he promoted several anti-Israel measures in parliament; Alice Walker, the African-American author who tried to take part in this year’s flotilla to Gaza and has defended suicide bombings as “last-ditch resistance”; Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who in 2009 was arrested by Israel for sailing on a boat attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip; and Spanish Supreme Court judge Jose Antonio Pallin, who has accused Israel of war crimes.

“The world expects South Africa to champion the rights of other people,” Kasrils said.

South African “witnesses” will include Steven Friedman, a Jewish proponent of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel; John Dugard, a former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine; and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of anti-apartheid activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

“The primary purpose is to engage with the court of public opinion throughout the world, air views and start a conversation which hopefully will continue over the next few years,” Friedman told JTA. The Zionist Federation, he said, is “a well-known source of propaganda. Its view is that any criticism of Israel is invalid, and it sees its job as defaming and discrediting anyone who has an alternative view of Israel.”

The local organizing committee is chaired by Siraj Desai, a high court judge, and includes Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy minister and deputy speaker of parliament who went to Israel in 2008 to advocate for Palestinian rights.

The tribunal is named for British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, who along with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre set up the 1960s-era Russell Tribunal on Vietnam to examine U.S. war crimes. It was followed some years later by the Russell Tribunal II on human rights offenses by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The latest Russell tribunal calls itself “an International People’s Tribunal created by a large group of citizens involved in the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.” Organizers say they seek to highlight the international community’s failure to implement U.N. resolutions and International Court of Justice decisions against Israel.

It aims to achieve its objectives through “a citizen’s initiative in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, with public international law as its frame of reference.”

The first session of the tribunal, held last year in Barcelona, focused on the “complicity of the European Union and its member states in not holding Israel accountable to the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law.” The London session, also last year, “considered the complicity of international corporations in illegally profiteering from the occupation in Palestine.” A fourth session is scheduled for New York in 2012.

The tribunal coordinator, former Belgian senator Pierre Garland, said the tribunal would compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, putting questions to the Jewish state about crimes against humanity.

“At its previous meetings, it proved to be an irrelevant talk shop whose members simply arrived at pre-endorsed conclusions, all of which were aimed at depicting Israel, and only Israel, as a criminal rogue state,” the Zionist Federation’s Swartz told JTA. “There is no reason to believe that the latest installment of its rolling propaganda road show will be any different.”

U.S. won’t participate in Durban III, State Dept. says

The United States will not participate in Durban III, this September, the State Department said.

In a letter to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joseph E. Macmanus, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, confirmed the United States would not attend the conference, which in its previous iterations has been a forum for anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

In November, the U.S. voted against a United Nations resolution to establish the conference. The following month, Gillibrand led a coalition of 18 senators in signing a letter to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, urging the U.S. not to participate in the conference, scheduled for Sept. 21 in New York City.

The Durban Commemoration is meant to mark the ten-year anniversary of Durban I, during which the delegations from the United States and Israel walked out in protest as the tenor turned increasingly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

“The United States will not participate in the Durban Commemoration. In December, we voted against the 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,” Macmanus wrote.

The U.S. and Israel, along with seven other countries, boycotted Durban II in 2009, during which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a keynote speech.

In November, Canada was the first country to announce it would not participate in Durban III. Israel announced it would boycott in the conference in December.

Diplomats Make End Run With Early Ratification of Final Durban Document

GENEVA (JTA)—Durban II reached its conclusion, it seemed, three days early.

A day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tirade against Israel triggered a walkout by the European delegation and generated headlines around the world, diplomats at the U.N. forum scrambled to ratify the conference’s final document on Tuesday—three days before the parley’s close, when the document was scheduled to be adopted.

It was not immediately clear whether the move was meant to head off further debate over the text or to prevent additional walkouts by delegations in protest.

The document ratified by delegates includes the item that prompted Israel and half a dozen other countries to boycott the conference: reaffirmation of the 2001 Durban document, which singles out Israel, brands it a racist country and cites the Palestinians as victims of racism.

“Clearly they were panicking and had to get a quick victory before the text could spiral even further out of control,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, said of the delegates’ vote. “Of course, the text is unacceptable because it still ratifies the flawed 2001 text.”

Despite the document’s early ratification, the very public walkout by EU delegates during Ahmadinejad’s speech and the events surrounding the conference guaranteed that Durban II would not be a reprise of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Pro-Palestinian elements hijacked the original event in Durban, South Africa, and turned it into an anti-Israel free-for-all.

Geneva has had some similarities with Durban.

In 2001, the conference provided a platform for a polarizing leader from the developing world to rebuke Western nations: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was greeted enthusiastically by thousands of activists at the NGO Forum that preceded the conference. This time it was Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to address the conference, who called Israel a “racist government.”

But whereas the Durban conference was chaotic, noisy advocacy in Geneva was banned from U.N. grounds and activists were restricted to a few minutes per day to address its follow-up.

And whereas critics of Israel in 2001 went largely unanswered or drowned out pro-Israel voices, Ahmadinejad’s speech was met by denunciations in the media, including a rare rebuke by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And after Ahmadinejad relinquished the podium, the very next speaker, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, called the Iranian president’s speech “incitement to hatred, spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance.”

For their part, pro-Israel protesters went on the offensive, interrupting Ahmadinejad’s speech and providing context to the Israel-focused tone of the conference with their own news conferences, demonstrations and Holocaust commemorations—the conference coincided with Yom Hashoah—in Geneva and beyond.

While the singling-out of Israel surprised delegates at the 2001 conference, Israel’s allies worked hard in the months leading up to Geneva to ensure it did not devolve into a repeat of Durban.

To some extent, then, the document’s early adoption Tuesday could be considered a defeat.

The document had been the center of diplomatic activity in the weeks leading up to the conference in Geneva, which was supposed to evaluate progress toward the goals set by the 2001 event.

Diplomats worked late last Friday to hammer out details of the final draft of the document, in part to avoid threats of boycott by countries concerned about its implicit branding of Israel as a racist state. In the end, the changes were insufficient to satisfy concerns by the United States, Australia, Germany and a few other countries, which announced they would not attend the conference. Most European countries, however, did not pull out.

In theory, the document could have been debated and changed at the conference itself, for better or for worse. Indeed, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference called for “open discussion on all issues” at the conference. But any such possibility ended when the draft document was ratified Tuesday with no additional changes.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters the original scheduled adoption date of April 24 was “just in case the main committee needed that much time—just in case various debates reopened or questions were raised.”

“None of that happened,” she said.

Pillay called the document’s early adoption “great news,” saying it “reinvigorates the commitment” of states to combat racism and “highlights the suffering of many groups.”

B’nai B’rith denounced the document’s ratification, calling it “flawed and offensive” and blaming Libya for engineering its early and swift passage.

“We condemn this rubber stamp document in the strongest terms possible,” Richard Heideman, the head of the B’nai B’rith Delegation in Geneva, said. “The adoption of this document shows nothing has changed since 2001, no lessons have been learned.”

Though the document was adopted by consensus, it was tainted by the boycott of 10 nations, including the Czech Republic, whose delegates walked out in protest during Ahmadinejad’s speech and never returned to the conference. Along with the United States, Australia and Germany, the other boycotting countries included Canada, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

The extent of the boycott was cheered by Jewish and pro-Israel groups, which sought to discredit the Geneva proceedings.

After Monday’s theatrics and Tuesday’s ratification, the remainder of the conference was expected to be taken up by NGO activists criticizing the deprivation of human rights for various peoples, including the Palestinians.

U.S., Other Democracies Should Shun Durban II

The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, otherwise known as the Durban Conference, was a parley hijacked by radicals betraying the real purpose of the event — the confrontation of racial discrimination worldwide.

The April 2009 Durban II conference promises to top that fiasco, despite the Obama administration’s decision to attempt to influence the process.

In the end, it will be a Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel hatefest. The United States, the Europeans and all other democratic nations should boycott this cynical effort to incite racist hatred and religious bigotry. If the United States chooses to attend this fraudulent conference, we will legitimize and sanction the bigotry and racism practiced by the world’s most intolerant, anti-democratic nations.

Indeed, it is these nations and their long and hostile records that cause the most concern. Let’s look at a few of them.

If you had to choose a responsible chair for the beginning Conference Preparatory Committee, a safe bet would be to pass over Libya. Yet as the upside-down logic of Durban II goes, the Libyan representative was elected by his peers, along with vice chairmen from human rights-abusing nations such as Iran and Cuba.

Libya’s twisted worldview, if there were any doubts, was on exhibit last April, when Ibrahim Dabbashi, its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, appeared before the Security Council and brazenly compared Israeli actions in Gaza at the time to the Nazis’ systematic killing during the Holocaust.

This is what happens when terrorist countries are elevated to the stature of democratic states. What stunts will they try to pull at Durban II?

Last year, Iran added its peculiar brand of democratic practices to the Durban II process when it protested the credentials registration of the Canadian Council on Israel and Jewish Advocacy in a preparatory meeting on the conference. As Hershell Ezrin, the council’s chief executive officer, told the Canadian Jewish News last May, “The whole process had become so discriminatory to us, we felt that no matter how many times we answered their questions and responded to shorter and shorter deadlines, we were asked the same questions over and over again.”

With Iran proudly serving as the center of Holocaust denial today, we can only imagine what it has up its sleeve for this conference.

Syria objected recently to language in conference program documents citing the number of Jewish deaths during the Holocaust, saying it didn’t want to engage in a statistical debate. Iran also objected to Holocaust references, complaining that banning denial was a restriction on freedom of expression.

Yet these countries and their allies have been staunch defenders of the insertion of blasphemy legislation in numerous other U.N. forums, a policy that violates freedom of expression through the suppression of any criticism of Islam or its leaders.

The Human Rights Council, the successor to the Human Rights Commission, also has been active in the planning of the conference at the request of the U.N. General Assembly. Yet the council, like its predecessor, has become irrevocably tarred with anti-Semitism and bias against Israel.

As the State Department’s March 2008 Report on Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism explained about these two organizations, “For many years before its abolition, the Commission on Human Rights had a separate agenda item focusing solely on alleged violations of Israel — namely, Item 8, ‘Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.’

This allowed multiple resolutions against Israel, while no other country could have more than one resolution run against it each year. No other country besides Israel had an agenda item exclusively scrutinizing it. This tradition has been continued by the new U.N. Human Rights Council.”

The report said later that “several important countries, including established democracies, follow a policy of voting ‘on principle’ against all resolutions that criticize a specific country regardless of the merits — unless that country is Israel, in which case they consistently vote in favor of critical resolutions.”

The timing of the Durban II conference is equally disturbing, as it will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from April 20 to 24, overlapping Israel’s annual observance of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 21. How ironic it will be that a conference organized by the United Nations, which gave birth to Israel in 1948 out of the ashes of the Holocaust, promises to repeat its shameful performance of 2001 by again allowing the unbridled eliminationist hatred, condemnation and slander of Israel.

In encouraging this conference to reconvene and worse, leaving it in the hands of the likes of Iran, Libya and other terrorist states, the United Nations again dishonors itself by allowing these tyrants a platform to impose their racial and religious bigotry on the world. How can the United States possibly be a part of this insanity? If we join this charade, we extend this dishonor through our presence, sullying ourselves in the process.

We must do the only honorable deed and boycott Durban II, denying the world’s terrorists and bigots the privilege of our legitimizing presence among them.

Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism from 2006 to 2009.


Foundation to Stop Funding Hate Groups

In a stunning reversal, the Ford Foundation has admitted it erred in funding anti-Israeli Palestinian groups and has vowed to establish tough new guidelines to stop its funds from being used for anti-Semitic action anywhere in the world.

The foundation said it was "disgusted" by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation action taken at the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which the foundation helped finance.

"We now recognize that we did not have a clear picture of the activities, organizations and people involved," conceded foundation President Susan Berresford in a letter this month to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

In addition to establishing new funding guidelines, the foundation’s letter said the group promises to cease financing of pivotal anti-Israel groups and even recover funds, where the grant’s intent was violated. The foundation’s wide-ranging announcement was detailed in a five-page, single-spaced letter to Nadler.

Nadler had circulated a petition signed by 20 members of Congress demanding that the Ford Foundation halt its funding of anti-Israel hate groups. Nadler’s petition and the foundation’s letter came in the wake of a four-part Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigative series, "Funding Hate," which documented how foundation grantees were using the prestigious organization’s money to foment virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation in the Middle East and worldwide — and in some cases advocacy for armed revolution in Israel.

The series prompted immediate congressional calls for an investigation from Nadler, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance Committee chairman. There were also indications from the Internal Revenue Service, State Department and Justice Department that officials would review the Ford Foundation’s funding.

In her letter to Nadler, Berresford wrote, "Recent media stories have raised questions about the conduct of certain Palestinian grantees who participated in the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, and the adequacy of the foundation’s oversight of grantees. In response, foundation officers and trustees have discussed these stories with concerned individuals, making clear the numerous steps that the foundation takes to ensure the proper use of its funds."

"Having reassessed our own information on the Durban Conference," the letter continued, "and in continuing talks with others, we now recognize that we did not have a complete picture of the activities, organizations and people involved. Although some Ford-supported grantee organizations repudiated the bigotry they witnessed in Durban, questions remain about others. More troubling still is the fact that many organizations among the large number at the conference did not respond at all."

"We deeply regret that foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior in Durban," the Durban section of the letter concluded.

Nadler and representatives of Jewish groups, with whom foundation officials had met after publication of the JTA series, praised organization’s response. Foundation officials could not be reached for comment.

However, Berresford promised more than just apologies. She pledged to take sweeping, new preventive and monitoring measures to address revelations in the JTA investigation that Ford Foundation grantees were openly refusing to sign U.S. government funding guidelines designed to ensure that charitable donations in the Middle East don’t end up in terrorist hands.

In a section of Berresford’s letter titled, "Prevention of Funding for Terrorism," the Ford Foundation said it regularly checks approximately 4,000 active grantees against a State Department list to identify any that might be on the State Department’s proscribed list.

However, the letter continued, new measures will help ensure that funds will not be passed through one organization to another, or that Ford Foundation grantees use other independent monies to promote violence or terrorism.

In addition, Berresford said, the foundation will require additional measures "to make explicit our intolerance for unacceptable activity by any grantee organization."

She said the foundation’s standard grant-agreement letter, which grantees worldwide must sign to receive funds from it, "will now include explicit language requiring the organization to agree that it will not promote violence or terrorism. This prohibition applies to all of the organization’s funds, not just those provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Organizations unwilling to agree to these terms will not receive foundation support."

The Berresford letter also contained a section titled, "Prevention of Funding for Bigotry and the Destruction of any State," which declared that organizations promoting the delegitimization or destruction of Israel would be ineligible for funding.

"Grantees refusing to sign this agreement will not receive foundation support," the letter said. "We will never support groups that promote or condone bigotry or violence, or that challenge the very existence of legitimate, sovereign states like Israel."

Addressing questions raised in the JTA series about monitoring of funds to grantees, the Berresford letter included a section titled, "Financial Oversight," in which the foundation announced a major new auditing initiative.

Meanwhile, in a special section specifically addressing the Durban conference, the Berresford letter completely reversed the earlier position of its vice president, Alexander Wilde. In statements and letters to the editor, Wilde had insisted, "We do not believe" that the events at Durban "can be described as ‘agitation.’"

In her letter, Berresford said, "Ford trustees, officers and staff were disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity seen at Durban, and we were disappointed that it undermined the vital issues on the meeting’s agenda. The foundation has reviewed its own information to establish whether Ford grantees took part in unacceptable, ugly and provocative behavior."

"To ensure that we receive a complete picture of grantees involved in the Durban conference, foundation officers and outside advisers will seek out attendees whom we, American Jewish leaders and others concerned about anti-Semitism and hate speech think should be heard on these matters," the letter said.

Promising action, Berresford’s letter also said, "If the foundation finds allegations of bigotry and incitement of hatred by particular grantees to be true, in conformance with normal foundation policy, we will cease funding."

In that vein, Berresford’s letter announced that the foundation "has decided to cease funding LAW, a grantee that has been the subject of criticism." LAW, whose full name is the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, was a special focus of the investigative series. The group was a principal player in the anti-Israel agitation in Durban. An audit concluded it misappropriated millions in philanthropic funds.

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders applauded the foundation’s dramatic turnabout.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "We welcome the statement by Ford that they will stop funding groups that have been promoting hatred of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel. We look forward to seeing these changes implemented and hope that other foundations that may have engaged in similar conduct will also make the necessary corrections."

Foxman said he welcomed the "the sincere effort by the current leadership of the Ford Foundation to deal responsibly with the past and to put into place safeguards so that these things do not recur."

Edwin Black is the author of the
newly released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create
a Master Race,” which investigates corporate philanthropic involvement in
American and Nazi eugenics. The entire JTA investigative series on Ford
Foundation funding can be read at

Durban, the Sequel

Geneva and Ann Arbor, Mich., may be a world apart, but they now have something in common: both are settings for a reinvigorated effort to undercut the very legitimacy of Israel.

The same folks responsible for turning this summer’s Durban conference on racism into an anti-Israel free-for-all are getting set for an encore performance in Geneva next week. And in college towns like Ann Arbor, Arab and Muslim student groups are using spurious comparisons with South Africa to discredit Israel.

Neither effort alone will succeed, but cumulatively, the campaign, which also includes the movement to charge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with war crimes, can only make it harder to reach the goal many boosters of these efforts claim to support — genuine peace.

The central theme in both efforts is this: Israel is the new apartheid state, as illegitimate in its existence as the South African government whose blatantly racist policies produced revulsion around the world and, ultimately, economic sanctions that helped bring about its demise.

That was the message promoted by the hijackers of this summer’s United Nations-sponsored racism conference in Durban. The target wasn’t Israeli policy; it was an attack on the idea of a Jewish State, and on the Jews who support it — portrayed as every bit as contemptible as the racists who supported the old South African regime. The fact that the conference was held in Durban added resonance to the charge, exactly as protest planners had intended.

Durban was a failure for Arab and Islamic nations in some key respects. The final conference document ducked the "Zionism as racism" charge, and Washington, recognizing it for the farce it was, boycotted the meeting.

But the meeting garnered enormous media attention; the anti-Israel slurs were repeated endlessly around the world. Respected international groups raised few objections. That was enough to encourage anti-Israel forces to move on to Geneva, where a meeting of the Fourth Geneva Convention on Rules of War will take place Dec. 5.

The convention, who signed the rules on Aug. 12, 1949, has met only once before; that meeting, too, was convened solely to take political swipes at Israel.

Countless wars have taken place in those 52 years, countless atrocities against civilians, but only Israel has been singled out for censure by having a special session called to consider its actions.

The anti-Israel coalition will also bring many of the same nongovernmental groups that sullied this summer’s racism conference to Geneva. Their overall goal: a formal acknowledgment by the international body that Israel is in violation of the convention, and, outside the official meeting, another anti-Israel feeding frenzy.

There’s nothing new in efforts to use international organizations to discredit Israel, as a long series of unbalanced U.N. resolutions demonstrates. But there is a new vehemence in the effort and a new sophistication. Themes have been updated to appeal to Third-World nations and a European bloc that is susceptible to the anti-colonialism pitch. International human rights groups have been drawn in.

In the case of Durban, U.N. human rights officials played a facilitating role in the anti-Israel ambush; it was Switzerland that gave in to Arab and Muslim importuning and called next week’s Geneva conference, and it’s the E.U., again defying a U.S. boycott, that is lending it international credibility.

Geneva has the potential to be much more damaging than Durban; even a watered-down resolution passed by the signatory nations will create the impression — patently absurd, but gratifying to anti-Zionists — that Israel alone is guilty of violating a widely recognized, important human rights treaty. There’s also an expanding domestic front to the new anti-Israel campaign.

Earlier this year, Islamic and Arab groups on campuses across the country called for a "divestment" campaign against Israel similar to the successful effort in the 1970s and 1980s in which colleges and city governments were pressed to get rid of their investments in racist South Africa. Palestinian students’ groups had scheduled a national conference on the subject for October, but it was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, there are signs the campaign is resuming, especially in traditionally liberal college towns such as Berkeley and Ann Arbor. It is being supported even by some Israeli human rights activists.

Realistically, this effort is unlikely to produce any significant economic pressure on Israel. Overall, support for Israel is at record levels; Ann Arbor and Berkeley are hardly Main-Street America.

But that’s not the point; promoters of the effort hope to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy in small but important increments.

Political Pot Boils Over

On a cool and drizzly night in this Indian Ocean port city, a vast white tent standing in the middle of a cricket field seemed to fit in with the circus atmosphere of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, one Jewish observer said.

This was no regular circus that had come to town, however, but a viciously anti-Israel, anti-Jewish circus that had carried on all week and was about to reach its apex.

It got so bad on Monday, just halfway through the official governmental conference that began Aug. 31 and ends Sept. 7, that the United States and Israel recalled their delegations.

The U.S. delegation said it would not continue working in such a "racist," anti-Semitic atmosphere.

Speaking in Israel, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced that Israel had decided to withdraw following a "unilateral and ugly proposal by the Arab and Muslim leagues that are united against peace and for the intifada against Israel.

"We have instructed our delegation in Durban to come back home. We regret very much the very bizarre show in Durban," Peres said. "An important convention that is supposed to defend human rights became a source of hatred."

By Wednesday, France was threatening that the European Union could walk as well if South Africa did not remove references to Israel as a racist and apartheid state.

Thus, the walkout may have had the intended effect: Final documents might not include any mention of the Middle East issue — if a compromise languageon the subject cannot be reached.

But even with efforts to continue the conference despite the walkout, the events leading up to the walkout marred the forum.

Last Saturday night thousands of nongovernmental organizations from around the world had gathered in the white tent to hammer out a final declaration after a weeklong preliminary portion of the racism conference. Thanks to Palestinian-led efforts, one issue dominated discussion — the Mideast conflict.

After a week spent enduring hate-filled chants, insults, pamphlets, posters, marches and demonstrations, some three dozen Jewish activists huddled in the first rows under the great tent.

To their right sat their nemeses — large delegations of Palestinians and other Arabs who waited excitedly, most dressed in secular garb but some in chadors and others with kaffiyeh scarves draped around their necks. The document to be considered included a litany of alleged sins to be laid at Israel’s door — including genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid — and the Jewish contingent was split on strategy.

After a chaotic start with procedural disputes that lasted more than an hour, it was the fourth speaker, an African woman from the Ecumenical Caucus, who first broached the Jewish issue.

The speaker wanted to strike from the declaration a passage that the Anti-Semitism Commission had inserted: that anti-Zionist rhetoric over the past year had incited violence against Jews and Jewish institutions around the world and should be considered a new form of anti-Semitism.

"I am against anti-Semitism, but I am also against the genocide of Palestinians," the woman said. And she wanted the declaration to name names — that is, to castigate Israel.

The Jewish delegation immediately challenged, but the chairman called for a vote of the 43 caucus representatives.

All in favor? Forty-two hands shot into the air, holding aloft yellow voting cards. All opposed? The solitary hand of the startled Jewish representative.

With that, the members of the Jewish caucus rose from their seats. As they made for the exit, they chanted "Shame, Shame, Shame!"

The pro-Palestinian group erupted with a rejoinder: "Free, free, Palestine! Free, free, Palestine!"

After a full week of such treatment, they could stomach no more, the Jewish delegates said afterward.

"This is the first time I’ve ever felt anti-Semitism this personally, at such a level of intensity," said David Matas, the senior counsel for B’nai Brith Canada and holder of the Jewish Caucus’ yellow voting card.

"It’s a kind of collective guilt," said Matas, a Winnipeg-based refugee lawyer, "but instead of saying that the Jews killed Christ, they’re using the modern-day language of human rights to accuse us of some of the worst sins known to humanity."

As the Jews vacated their seats in protest, the Palestinians and their colleagues swooped in to occupy them. There were smiles and hugs and handshakes all around.

For months, Jewish leaders and activists have warned that Palestinian and Arab diplomacy has been aimed at "delegitimization of the State of Israel."

In the weeks leading up to the Durban conference, Jewish activists had pushed frantically to prevent the Arab world from reintroducing a resolution denigrating Zionism as racism; minimizing the uniqueness of the Holocaust; and diluting the definition of "anti-Semitism" by expanding it to include discrimination of other "Semitic" peoples, like the Palestinians.

Those issues, it turns out, were mere "decoys," said Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director of international liaison for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the head of the Jewish Caucus in Durban.

With the approval of the NGO declaration, a blueprint for the conference’s real agenda has come into focus, Jewish delegates said.

Call it the South Africa strategy.

Durban has given birth to a declaration that denounces Israel as a "racist, apartheid state" and calls for the world to use the same tactics against Israel that ultimately dismantle South Africa’s apartheid regime. The declaration calls for "mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel."

It also demands the "launch of an international anti-Israel Apartheid movement" through "a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, U.N. bodies and agencies, business communities, and to end the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States."

A pro-Palestinian activist at the conference said there is no overarching plan to dismantle Israel itself, only to revamp its political system.

"This is a paranoid kind of thinking," Jamil Dakwar, an Israeli Arab lawyer with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told JTA. "The people I know who criticize Israel say it can’t continue as a religious- and ethnic-based state, simply because it contradicts democracy."

The NGO document also calls for creation of a U.N. war crimes tribunal to prosecute Israeli "war crimes, acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and the crime of Apartheid"; a U.N.-sponsored education and media campaign to counter those who support Israel and to promote the Palestinian cause; and elimination of the Law of Return which guarantees citizenship for any Jew who wishes to settle in Israel — coupled with the Palestinians’ own "right of return" for all refugees of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and their descendants.

As always, Jewish activists said, Israel will count on the United States to defend it through lobbying or, if necessary, by wielding its veto on the U.N. Security Council.

Yet some activists noted that "apartheid" itself is now a recognized legal term that might be prosecuted if — as many activists hope — the International Criminal Court is established in the near future.

Regardless, the Palestinians already have won a conviction of sorts against Israel in the propaganda war being waged here in Durban. Incessant Palestinian rhetoric, dutifully reported by the world media, whipped the crowd here into a virtual frenzy.

"They scream at you and shake their finger in your face; you can feel scared and embattled," said Judy Palkovitz, chairwoman of government relations for Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. "Whatever dollar amount they spent to organize this, it was well worth it. They’ve gotten very good bang for their buck. They may not win the war, but they’ve won this battle."

Presumably it was no accident that the new mantra "racist, apartheid" was unveiled here in South Africa, where those words are most inflammatory. Such propaganda helped foster what Jewish activists described as a "lynch mob" atmosphere that won "kangaroo court" validation in the NGO declaration.

The most prominent featured speakers at the NGO conference were Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat — who lashed out at Israel in a vicious speech, even as Peres was courting him for new peace talks — and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

After the walkout, the pro-Palestinian activism had died down somewhat and the official Arab delegations took a more moderate tone, reportedly expressing a willingness to sign off on a final governmental declaration that didn’t refer to "Zionism" or "racism."

But Jewish delegates concluded that the stance was a tactic to appease the West — while leaving the Arab states leeway to trumpet the NGO document as "the voice of civil society" around the world.

A statement by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior

The following is excerpted from a statement by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, read Monday at the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, by Ambassador Mordecai Yedid, the head of the Israeli delegation.

Madame Chairperson,

Why, when the world was created, did God create just one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve? The Rabbis answered: so that all humankind would come from a single union, to teach us that we are all brothers and sisters.

This Conference was dedicated to that simple proposition. We, all of us, have a common lineage, and are all, irrespective of race, religion or gender, created in the divine image. Indeed, this single idea, unknown to all other ancient civilizations, may be the greatest gift that the Jewish people has given to the world, the recognition of the equality and dignity of every human being. The foremost right that follows from this principle is the right to be free, not to be a slave. It is imperative that international community address and duly acknowledge, already far far too late, the magnitude of the tragedy of slavery.

The horror of slavery is profoundly engraved in the experience of the Jewish people — a people formed in slavery. For hundreds of years the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. The Jewish response to slavery was remarkable. Rather than forget or sublimate the suffering of slavery, Jewish tradition insisted that every Jew must remember and relive it….But remembrance of our suffering as slaves has a more important function — to remind ourselves of our moral obligations….We have a responsibility to protect the weak, the widow and the orphan and the stranger….

And indeed in every country in which they have lived, Jews have been in the forefront of the battle for human rights and freedom from oppression. The same urge for national liberation, that led to the Exodus, and that led to the Zionist dream that Jews could live in freedom in their land, was intrinsically bound up with the belief that not just one people, but all peoples must be free. It was this conviction that Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, expressed in his book Altneuland, as early as 1902: "There is still one problem of racial misfortune unsolved. The depths of that problem only a Jew can comprehend. I refer to the problem of the Blacks…. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist the redemption of the Black people…."

If slavery is one form of racist atrocity, anti-Semitism is another….Those uncomfortable recognizing the existence of anti-Semitism not only try to redefine the term, they try to deny that it is different from any other form of discrimination. But it is a unique form of hatred. It is directed at those of particular birth, irrespective of their faith, and those of particular faith, irrespective of their birth. It is the oldest and most persistent form of group hatred; in our century this ultimate hatred has led to the ultimate crime, the Holocaust….Those who cannot bring themselves to recognize the unique evil of anti-Semitism, similarly cannot accept the stark fact of the Holocaust, the first systematic attempt to destroy an entire people. The past decade has witnessed an alarming increase in attempts to deny the simple fact of this atrocity, at the very time that the Holocaust is passing from living memory to history. After wiping out 6 million Jewish lives, there are those who would wipe out their deaths. At this Conference too, we have witnessed a vile attempt to generalize and pluralize the word ‘Holocaust’, and to empty it of its meaning as a reference to a specific historic event with a clear and vital message for all humanity….

The 20th century, which witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust, also witnessed the fulfillment of the Zionist dream, the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Israel’s historic land. For Zionism is quite simply that — the national movement of the Jewish people, based on an unbroken connection, going back some 4000 years, between the People of the Book and the Land of the Bible. It is like the liberation movements of Africa and Asia, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. And it is a movement of which other national liberation movements can be justly proud. It has strived continually to establish a society which reflects highest ideals of democracy and justice for all its inhabitants, in which Jew and Arab can live together, in which women and men have equal rights, in which there is freedom of thought of expression, and in which all have access to the judicial process to ensure these rights are protected.

….It is a tall task. It is a constant struggle. And we do not always succeed. But, even in the face of the open hostility of its neighbors and continued threats to its existence, there are few countries that have made such efforts to realize such a vision. Few countries of Israel’s age and size have welcomed immigrants from over one hundred countries, of all colors and tongues, sent medical aid and disaster relief to alleviate human tragedy wherever it strikes, maintained a free press, including the freest Arabic press anywhere in the Middle East.

And yet those who cannot bring themselves to say the words "the Holocaust", or to recognize anti-Semitism for the evil that it is, would have us condemn the "racist practices of Zionism". Did any one of those Arab states which conceived this obscenity stop for one moment to consider their own record? Or to think, for that matter, of the situation of the Jews and other minorities their own countries?

These states would have us believe that they are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, but again and again this lie is disproved. What are the despicable caricatures of Jews that fill the Arab press and are being circulated at this Conference: what are the vicious libels so freely invented and disseminated by our enemies if not the reincarnation of age-old anti-Semitic canards?

There is profound difference between criticizing a country, and denying its right to exist. Anti-Zionism, the denial of Jews the basic right to a home, is nothing but anti-Semitism, pure and simple…. The conflict between us and our Palestinian neighbors is not racial, and has no place at this Conference. It is political and territorial, and as such can and should be resolved to end the suffering and bring peace and security to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples…. The outrageous and manic accusations we have heard here are attempts to turn a political issue into a racial one, with almost no hope of resolution…..

The head of the Palestinian Authority, rather than utilize this vital forum to inspire his own people, and the people of the world, to seek peace, honor and harmony, he chose to use this podium to incite to bitterness and hatred. Another missed opportunity by the leader of the Palestinian people….

Here today, something greater even than peace in the Middle East is being sacrificed — the highest values of humanity…..Humanity is being sacrificed to a political agenda….. Can there be a greater irony than the fact that a conference convened to combat the scourge of racism should give rise to the most racist declaration in a major international organization since the Second World War?

Despite the vicious anti-Semitism we have heard here, I do not fear for the Jewish people, which has learned to be resilient and to hold fast to its faith. Despite the virulent incitement against my country, I do not fear for Israel, which has the strength not just of courage, but also of conviction.

But I do fear, deeply, for the victims of racism. For the slaves, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the inexplicably hated, the impoverished, the despised, the millions who turn their eyes to this hall, in the frail hope that it may address their suffering. Who see instead that a blind and venal hatred of the Jews has turned their hopes into a farce. For them I fear.

We are here as representatives of states, and states of their nature have political interests and agendas. But we are also human beings, all of us brothers and sisters created in the divine image. And in those quiet moments when we recognize our common humanity, and look into our soul, let us consider what we came here to do – and what we have in fact done:

We came to learn from our history, but we find it being buried to hide its lessons.

We came to communicate in the language of humanity, but we hear its vocabulary twisted beyond all comprehension.

We came out of respect for the sacred values entrusted to us, but see them here perverted for political ends.

And ultimately, we came to serve the victims of racism, but have witnessed yet another atrocity, committed in their name.