by Michael Danby
It’s possible, though not very likely, that Australia’s bid to win one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council will fail because of the decision taken by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to boycott this week’s 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism (also known as Durban II, although it is being held in Geneva).
Some African states may be dismayed that Australia joined other western countries in boycotting the conference. Kevin Rudd joined President Obama and the United States with eight other countries in exiting the conference when after extensive negotiations we failed to alter the final draft declaration.
Australia has the consolation of knowing that this defeat will have come about because we took a stand on principle. The principle was that the processes of the UN, and the cause of opposing racism, should not be hijacked by states who want to use them to attack the western democracies in general and Israel in particular. That was what happened at original UN World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban in 2001. That conference degenerated into a carnival of hatred, focused not only at Israel but at the Jewish people as a whole. It became a conference of racism rather than a conference against it. The Australian novelist Alan Gold was at Durban. He later wrote:
"I was threatened, spat upon, demonized and denigrated because I was a Jewish delegate. When I tried to give a speech, I was screamed at with the vilest Nazi propaganda I’ve ever heard. The League of Arab Lawyers were freely handing out cartoons of Hitler with ‘If he’d won there would be no Palestinian problem’."
In parliament last month, Stephen Smith gave fair warning that Australia would boycott Durban II unless the UN could guarantee there would no repetition of such scenes, and unless the declaration to be issued at the end of the conference did not single out Israel for criticism while ignoring the gross human rights violations going on in many other countries.
Australia did not announce an immediate boycott because we wanted to work with other countries such as the Netherlands to reform the processes and outcome of the conference. Some progress was made by the Russian chair Boychenko, but not nearly enough. Most importantly, the Arab countries insisted that the conference reaffirm everything that was decided at Durban I, including the singling out of Israel. This was not acceptable to Australia, nor to the US, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and other countries who decided to stay away. When the walkout happened not only did all members of the EU walk out but they were joined by Jordan and Morocco.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon commented: "I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve."
Many delegates who remained, especially from Asia and Latin America, would have joined the Secretary General in repudiating the Iranian leader's incendiary remarks. What possessed the UN to have Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of all people, give the main speech on the first day – April 21, Hitler’s birthday? Delegates heard that "world Zionism" was "falsely resorting to religion to hide their hatred and ugly faces". They heard the Iraq war was "planned by the Zionists" and their allies "in complicity with the owners of the wealth". Ahmadinejad said Israel was totally racist and he called for "eradicating this barbaric racism". Judaism is a respected religion in Persian culture and Ahmedinejad's extremist remarks have caused a storm even in Iran. Other Iranian presidential candidates have disassociated themselves from Ahmadinejad’s minimization of the Nazis' WWII genocidal actions.
An Orwellian mindset denigrates Israel, a parliamentary democracy, as more repressive than Burma or Cuba or North Korea. Sudan, currently busy massacring its black minority in Darfur, was one of the key organisers of this macabre circus.
Maybe Australia will lose some popularity for boycotting Durban II. Well, there are more important things than popularity. One of them is standing up for truth and fairness, and not giving in to demagoguery, bigotry and political blackmail. On Friday, in a speech to 1200 business people in Melbourne, the Prime Minister concluded:
"The Durban Review Conference should have been an occasion for the world to unite against racism in all its forms. Australia has worked with a range of countries in Geneva in weeks leading up to the conference, promoting an acceptable outcome document from the review conference. Regrettably it became clear that that was not the resolve of other states participating in the Geneva conference. Some other states. And instead, the conference was heading in the reverse direction… (The) Inflammatory remarks of President Ahmadinejad of Iran at the conference are unacceptable and underline the Australian Government’s decision not to attend the Durban Conference."
1 May, 2009
Michael Danby is the Member for Melbourne Ports and Chair of the Federal Parliament Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs.