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Durban Review Conference on Racism: Genuine Effort or Political Hypocrisy?

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Durban III, a UN conference charged with finding the real root of racism, is scheduled to commence on September 21, 2011, in New York. The Durban Conferences are the natural, albeit indirect extension of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The two previous Durban conferences became a platform for political hatred rather than a genuine effort to deal with the issue. Will Durban III be more of the same?

The generally accepted definition of racism is the conviction that there are race-based inherent differences between humans separating them according to their racial origin, and therefore they should be treated differently. The practical result of applying race-based policies is discrimination of the weaker group by the stronger one. Racism has been the perpetrators' justification throughout history the most heinous crimes: genocide.

Therefore, seeking the roots of racism and fighting it is a worthy cause. However, Durban Conferences have already shown that when cynical politics is mixed with human rights issues, the latter cause stands no chance of being seriously debated. Durban II conference held in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2009, was prepared by a committee chaired by representatives from two human rights champion countries, Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya and her vice chair came from Cuba. 114 countries participated in the conference, which was boycotted by Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, and the United States. The Czech Republic left the conference on the first day. Twenty-three other European Union countries sent low-level delegations. The reasons voiced by many of the boycotting counties reflected their concern that the conference would spread anti-Semitism, hatred against Israel and promote laws against free religious speech and homosexuals.

With Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the keynote speaker as the only head of state to attend the conference, the earlier predictions of the boycotting countries were justified. On the first day of the conference, Ahmadinejad condemned Israel as "totally racist" and accused the West of using the Holocaust as a pretext for aggression against the Palestinians. He referred to the Holocaust as an "ambiguous and dubious question". When Ahmadinejad spoke about Israel, all the European Union delegates left. However, some remaining attendees applauded him. There was nothing new in his speech. Ahmadinejad started his campaign against Israel in 2005 when he said, according to the New York Times, that Israel must be wiped off the map. When he continued to advocate for the eradication of Israel in 2007, one hundred members of the United States House of Representatives co-sponsored a bill "Calling on the United Nations Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the United Nations Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel." EU leaders issued a strong condemnation against Ahmadinejad: "[c]alls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community." On November 17, 2007 the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Ahmadinejad's remarks and called on him to retract his bellicose comments in their entirety and to recognize the state of Israel and its right to live in peace and safety.

These and other condemnations were no deterrent for Ahmadinejad who just last week repeated his call for the eradication of Israel. Nothing was said in the Conference about Iran's practice of torturing political prisoners, executing condemned men by hanging them from the top of a crane, its suppression of its own minorities -- the Arabs and the Kurds -- nor about the violent treatment of Iranian opposition. Did anyone say hypocrisy?

Durban III has already been boycotted by Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United States. Is boycotting the right thing to do? Is it wise to leave center stage to more hate speech by representatives of countries where "human rights" is a painful joke? Should the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Israel let Ahmadinejad, his clones and cronies spew more inflammatory messages? Why not attend the conference and focus the attention on the true roots of racism, those who currently practice its ugly doctrines and its horrendous consequences that history tells us?

The early Christians must have asked themselves why enter the ring when it was all but certain they'd be devoured by the lions. The sad answer is that they were forced. But in today's world, the lions are the U.S., the European Union, Australia, Canada and similar democratic countries. Their presence, rather than their empty seats, could and should impede Ahmadinejad & co. from getting all the attention. Pointing a finger at him and his regime and against other racist regimes during the conference may not bring a resolution against those who practice racism but accuse others, but it would get the attention of public opinion. In a world where political victories are not counted by the majority of the votes, but by the attention of the people, an empty seat has no voice to be heard.