The Protocols of the Elders of Meron: Judge Frederik Harhoff points to Jewish intrigue at the ICTY – Guest Post by Marko Attila Hoare.

This a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare.


The explanation of the background to this case is complex but necessary. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has had a bumpy journey since its foundation in 1993. It has long been condemned by Serb and to a lesser extent Croat nationalists, as well as by left-wing and right-wing hardliners in the West, as a political court set up to serve the interests of the Great Powers. But until recently, it has been supported by liberals in the former Yugoslavia and in the West and beyond, as a positive and necessary exercise in international justice – albeit one that has not produced very satisfactory results. In recent months, however, a realignment has taken place: former supporters of the ICTY have begun to condemn it in the same ‘anti-imperialist’ terms used by the nationalists, and to present its judgements as the work of Great Power intrigue. Their anger has focused above all on the figure of Judge Theodor Meron, President of the ICTY. Meron is a Polish Jew by birth and a Holocaust survivor, who emigrated to Israel, was educated at the University of Jerusalem, and served as legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada and to the UN, before emigrating to the US. Meron is no Zionist hawk; in 1967, he wrote a memo for Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol advising against the building of settlements in the newly occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. Yet with a sad inevitability, his Jewish and Israeli background have taken on a sinister prominence in the current campaign against him.

As the ICTY is not a kangaroo court, it naturally has acquitted some of its defendants, including some high-profile suspects such as former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Bosnian army commander Sefer Halilovic and Bosnian commander in Srebrenica Naser Oric, as well as Miroslav Radic, a Yugoslav army officer accused over the 1991 massacre of Croats at Vukovar hospital. These acquittals excited varying degrees of anger in the former Yugoslavia, but relatively little controversy in the West. However, this began to change in November of last year, when the ICTY Appeals Chamber – a five-judge body presided over by Meron – overturned the convictions of the two Croatian commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for war-crimes against Serbs during Croatia’s Operation Storm in 1995. This was immediately followed by the acquittal of the former Kosovo Albanian rebel commander Ramush Haradinaj by the ICTY Trial Chamber.

These acquittals were naturally denounced by Serbia’s leaders, including its president and prime minister, as evidence of the ICTY’s political or ‘anti-Serb’ character. Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian statesman then serving as president of the UN General Assembly, responded to the Gotovina-Markac acquittals by summoning a special session at the General Assembly to examine the ICTY’s record, in a naked attempt to undermine it. Such behaviour from Serbian politicians was par for the course. Yet on this occasion, they were prominently joined by pundits in the West – not only those who had long accused the ICTY of being an anti-Serb institution, but also others who were angry at the acquittals for overturning their favoured narrative, according to which Croatia had been just as guilty as Serbia of ethnic cleansing and war-crimes.

The Gotovina-Markac acquittals thereby united mainstream liberal Western commentators and Serb nationalists in condemnation of the ICTY under Meron’s leadership. Bizarrely, these critics were then joined by some Bosnians (particularly Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims) and friends of Bosnia, after the Appeals Chamber in February 2013 overturned the conviction of Momcilo Perisic, former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff, for aiding and abetting Bosnian Serb crimes at Sarajevo and Srebrenica. The ICTY’s already shaky reputation among Bosniaks was then further grievously damaged by the ICTY Trial Chamber’s acquittal in May of this year of two senior officials of the Serbian interior ministry, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, for war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. The acquittals of Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic mean that no official of Serbia has been found guilty by the ICTY of war-crimes in Bosnia. For many Bosniaks and others, joining the anti-Meron chorus became irresistible.

From this diverse alliance against Meron and the ICTY, a narrative has emerged: the acquittals form part of a sinister pattern. Meron is the puppet-master who has manipulated other judges into securing the acquittals. Even though he was only one judge among five in the Appeals Chambers that acquitted first Gotovina and Markac, then Perisic, and even though he was not even a member of the Trial Chambers that acquitted Haradinaj, Stanisic and Simatovic, Meron has nevertheless been imbued with the power to manipulate his fellow judges into doing his bidding. He is said to be doing this at the bidding of the United States, which allegedly fears the consequence for its own soldiers and officials of senior Serbian and Croatian war criminals being convicted. The Wikileaks cables have been cited to demonstrate Meron’s connection with the official US – even though the contents of the cables do not provide any evidence that he followed US policy []. Facts that go against the Meron conspiracy theory have been brushed aside: the fact that, far from seeking to sabotage the ICTY, the US has long been its strongest supporter in the international community; the fact that under Meron’s presidency, the ICTY has also recently secured key convictions, including of senior Bosnian Serb intelligence officer Zdravko Tolimir, and of six senior Bosnian Croat officials. Most recently, Meron presided over the Appeals Chamber judgement that reinstated one charge of genocide against Radovan Karadzic.

In the absence of any evidence to support either aspect of the conspiracy theory – that Meron manipulated his fellow judges to secure acquittals, and that he did so at the bidding of the US – his critics were delighted when another senior judge at the ICTY, Frederik Harhoff, wrote what was effectively an open letter (Danish original), (imperfect English translation), dated 6 June and emailed to 56 friends and colleagues, apparently confirming it. Citing the acquittals – of Gotovina, Markac, Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic – Harhoff wrote:

‘You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as USA and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities.’

Thus, in an astonishing non sequitur, not just the world’s superpower, but Israel made an appearance as the guilty party responsible for the acquittals. Harhoff continued:

‘Have any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure on the American presiding judge (the presiding judge for the court that is) to ensure a change of direction? We will probably never know. But reports of the same American presiding judge’s tenacious pressure on his colleagues in the Gotovina – Perisic case makes you think he was determined to achieve an acquittal – and especially that he was lucky enough to convince the elderly Turkish judge to change his mind at the last minute. Both judgements then became majority judgements 3 -2.’

Thus, Harhoff again implied Israel was behind the acquittals, and linked it specifically to the Jewish, formerly Israeli presiding judge, Theodor Meron, whom he accused of ‘tenacious pressure on his colleagues’. Harhoff’s claims have been thoroughly deconstructed and exploded, in particular by legal experts Luka Misetic and Bogdan Ivanisevic*
but to summarise: he admitted that ‘we will probably never know’ if his claims are accurate, in other words that he has no evidence to support them; his grasp of his facts is so weak that he wrongly claimed that Perisic was acquitted by a 3-2 majority in the Appeals Chamber, when it was actually 4-1; and he portrayed Meron as manipulating the ‘elderly Turkish judge’ Mehmet Güney, even though the latter, born in 1936, was six years younger than Meron himself, who was born in 1930.

Turning to Stanisic and Simatovic, who were acquitted by a Trial Chamber that was presided over by Dutch judge Alphons Orie and of which Meron was not even a member, Harhoff continued:

‘Was Orie under pressure from the American presiding judge [Meron] ? It appears so! Rumour from the corridors has it that the presiding judge demanded that the judgement against the two defendants absolutely had to be delivered last Thursday – without the three judges in the premium authority having had time to discuss the defence properly – so that the presiding judge’s promise to the UN Security Council could be met.’

Naturally, Harhoff did not suggest that the Dutch judge acquitted Stanisic and Simatovic on orders from the Netherlands. No, he suggested that the Dutch judge acquitted them ‘under pressure from the American presiding judge’ – a Jew and former Israeli official who was not even on the panel. And Harhoff based these conclusions on nothing more than ‘rumour from the corridors’.

Harhoff was the first of Meron’s critics explicitly to play the Israeli card. Following the acquittal of Perisic, Dzenana Karup-Drusko, editor-in-chief of the leading Bosnian news magazine BH Dani, had published a critique of Meron, whom she described as ‘an American of Jewish extraction’, whose verdict established a precedent meaning that ‘it was now almost impossible to indict almost any commander of NATO, or of the Russian or Israeli army, for example’. But Karup-Drusko did not suggest that Meron was acting at the behest of Israel. Nor did she portray him as a puppet-master manipulating the other ICTY judges. Harhoff therefore broke new ground.

Harhoff’s aspersions against the reputations of his colleagues – not just Meron, but Orie, Güney and by implication all those involved in the acquittals – although wholly unsubstantiated by any actual evidence, then became the basis for an article in the New York Times by Marlise Simons on 14 June, which claimed they ‘raised serious questions about the credibility of the court’, and concluded that ‘Judge Harhoff’s letter, which echoes protests by many international experts, seems likely to add a fresh bruise to the tribunal’s reputation.’ A few days later, Rwanda used Harhoff’s assault on Meron to demand the latter’s resignation, since it was unhappy with the role he had played in the ICTY’s sister body, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in acquitting or reducing the sentences of some Hutu-extremist prisoners. The Rwandan newspaper New Times claimed on 20 June that ‘a confidential letter by a Danish judge, Frederik Harhoff that leaked to the media’, revealed that the ‘embattled’ Meron had ‘exerted “persistent and intense” pressure on his fellow judges to allow suspects go free.’
Also on 20 June, a petition was published by prominent Bosnian intellectuals and activists directed at Meron, stating:

‘Following the letter by your colleague Judge Frederik Harhoff, we, the war crime victims in BiH, consider it your moral obligation to tender your resignation from all of the functions performed by yourself in the ICTY… You, Mr. Meron, have misused your position by influencing your colleagues, and thereby you have cruelly violated the Statute of the Tribunal, the implementation of which exactly you were to supervise, and the disrespect of which by your colleagues also you were to sanction. Therefore, we find it your moral duty, moreover as a Holocaust victim, to leave the Hague Tribunal.’

On 25 June, an open letter signed by well over a hundred individuals and NGOs, either from the Yugoslavia or specialising in it was submitted to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, claimed that the

‘general public in the former Yugoslavia and particularly those in communities that were affected by war, view Judge Harhoff’s allegations as evidence of a mockery of justice by the most important UN tribunal’, and urged Ban ‘to use your authority to order a prompt and thorough inquiry, to establish beyond doubt if there has been a violation of articles 12 and 13 of the ICTY Statute, which guarantees the independence, impartiality, integrity and high moral character of judges serving at the ICTY.’

Thus, Harhoff’s rumour had quickly hardened into the mainstream version of events, and was providing ammunition for those with an interest in bringing Meron down. Nor did the story go unnoticed by anti-Zionist critics of Israel. Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss took Harhoff’s claims at face value, arguing ‘Is this the US imperial state or the Israel lobby at work? My suspicion is of course the Israel lobby’. Alison Weir of Intifada – Voice of Palestine interpreted the Simons article rather freely when she wrote that

‘The New York Times reports that an Israeli diplomat turned U.S. citizen – and now president of the war crimes tribunal at the Hague – has been pressuring the court to acquit officials accused of war crimes.’

The moral of this story is: if you want to create your own conspiracy theory that other people will believe but which isn’t supported by any evidence, it really helps if the person you finger as the leading villain happens to be a Jew. Most members of the anti-Meron campaign are neither anti-Semites nor motivated by anti-Semitism; perhaps none of them are. Many if not most of them are motivated by fully justified outrage at the meagre results of the ICTY and a principled desire to see justice served. Yet they are basing their campaign on allegations, by Judge Harhoff, that at the very least feed off familiar anti-Semitic themes of alleged Jewish power and manipulative behaviour; themes that strike a chord among the wider public, which explains the vibrancy of the campaign. If it does not already, this is something that should seriously concern them.

*Bogdan Ivanisevic’s deconstruction of Harhoff’s letter appeared on his Facebook page; the link in this article is to his earlier defence of Meron.

Marko Attila Hoare is a Reader at Kingston University specialising in the history of South East Europe. He is the author of four books: The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst, London, 2013); The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (Saqi, London, 2007); Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006); and How Bosnia Armed (Saqi, London, 2004). He is currently working on a history of modern Serbia.

On the need to be specific about discrimination

Cross-posted from Greens Engage.

A few weeks ago the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a draft resolution concerning extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions. Every two years, this vote affirms the duties of member countries to uphold the right to life of all people and calls on them to investigate discriminatory killings.

For the past decade, the resolution has drawn explicit attention to sexual orientation among other groups which historically have been targeted for summary execution. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission describes this reference as an important part of:

“… a non-exhaustive list in the resolution highlighting the many groups of people that are particularly targeted by killings – including persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, persons acting as human rights defenders (such as lawyers, journalists or demonstrators) as well as street children and members of indigenous communities. Mentioning sexual orientation as a basis on which people are targeted for killing highlights a situation in which particular vigilance is required in order for all people to be afforded equal protection.”

However, the inclusion of sexual orientation is contested. This year an amendment, sponsored by Benin on behalf of the African Group, called for replacing the words ‘sexual orientation’ with ‘discriminatory reasons on any basis.’ The amendment was narrowly passed with support from countries which criminalise homosexuality.

Peter Tatchell, who suffered a homophobic beating in Moscow which prevented him from pursuing Green Party parliamentary candidacy, expressed his outrage.

Among many others concerned about the deletion is the Association of British Muslims:

“Removing this clause at this time will send quite the wrong signal to those regimes that indulge in these barbaric practices, implying as it does that United Nations is no longer concerned at the maltreatment of people because of their sexual orientation or considers it to be a lesser matter.

Referring to the Nazis, Paster Martin Niemoller once wrote, ‘First they came…’. Have we not learned anything since the tragedies of World War 2? Niemoller started out by saying, ‘First they came for the communist’s, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist’ Then, the socialists, trade unionists, Jews and other groups until finally he writes, ‘Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me’.

The Committee vote is to be ratified in December. The Association of British Muslims calls on member states of the General Assembly not to endorse the decision of its Third Committee, and to reinstate the deleted clause.”

Reverend Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said:

“The reference to sexual orientation was part of a list which highlights many of the groups that are targeted by killings – including those belonging to national or ethnic groups, human rights defenders and street children and members of indigenous communities. Until now it has been accepted that the mention of sexual orientation is required to draw attention to the fact that this is often the specific reason why individuals are killed. The removal of this reference sends a message that people do not merit protection based upon their sexual orientation and will further fuel homophobic hatred and violence.”

These arguments are also striking because they are exactly the same ones which can be made in response to ongoing efforts, gradually encroaching from the margins of British politics, to deny or otherwise minimise contemporary forms of persecution and discrimination against Jews.

This ghosting out of antisemitism also seeks to omit it as a consideration in official documents and campaigns, or subsume its specifics into more general statements which shine no light, cannot penetrate, and are destined to become platitudes. Like the UN Resolution on extra-judicial executions which deletes reference to gay people, a decision to remove antisemitism from consideration signals prejudice or an ominous readiness to cement political allegiances by indulging prejudice.

Let us not step backwards.

To end, an aside – it may interest readers to know that every representative from the Middle East voted for this amendment to whitewash persecution of gay people, except one. Israel’s voted to retain explicit reference to sexual orientation. In the alignments around this vote, some commentators will see only the usual confrontations and alliances between blocs of countries. This was Cuba’s official explanation, but it’s a view which is totally aloof from the lives – and deaths – of the people affected. If you are gay, it boils down to this: same-sex relations which other countries call ‘un-Christian’, ‘un-African’, ‘un-Islamic’, are not ‘un-Israeli’. Israel is the best place in the Middle East to be yourself if you are gay.

the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a special resolution addressing extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions. The resolution affirms the duties of member countries to protect the right to life of all people with a special emphasis on a call to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. The resolution highlights particular groups historically subject to executions including street children, human rights defenders, members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority communities, and, for the past 10 years, the resolution has included sexual orientation as a basis on which some individuals are targeted for death.

UN refugee director forced to resign and apologize

Andrew Whitley, the New York Director of UNWRA, the UN agency tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees, told a conference that the so-called “right of return” is unlikely to ever be exercised, and that efforts would be better expended on integrating Palestinian refugees into the countries where they have been living for decades.

Ben Cohen describes what happened to him.

Durban Review Conference – final pre-conference negotiations in Geneva

"... we saw two big white tents. Which right away flashed me back to the Durban WCAR NGO Forum..."

"... we saw two big white tents. Which right away flashed me back to the Durban WCAR NGO Forum..."

If you want to know what is going on then follow the ICARE reports daily:

Quotes of the day

Alas, I’m not Harry Potter or another magician’ (Chair)

‘We’re going to try to make the conference as successful as Durban in 2001’ (Oops)

‘There’s a big elephant in the room but it’s a friendly one, an African elephant’.

Day one of the last intersessional Working Group meeting for the Durban Review Conference (or Intersessional WG for the DRC) saw magicians, elephants in the room and other Disney-esque characters. Exiting the accreditation/security bunker in the morning, to the right we saw two big white tents. Which right away flashed me back to the Durban WCAR NGO Forum, but hey, those tents are for accreditation when the actual DRC starts. The UN expects around a 1000 NGO delegates and they think the security bunker does not have the capacity to hold a number like that.

Back to the meeting, which started fairly on time, 10.15am. The High Commissioner, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, held an opening speech in which she stated that the progress had been remarkable, the latest negotiation document (The Rolling Text) was welcomed by her, she had received many encouraging statements about it from many groups and delegations, lots of goodwill, et cetera. She stressed that ‘procrastination and expediency is not an option’ (which somehow reminded me of the Borg in Star Trek: you will be assimilated). Her full speech can be read here, scanned for your convenience by your intrepid ICARE news team. One of her last sentences was somewhat exaggerated: ‘…the way forward in the anti-racism agenda depends on the outcome of the Durban Review Conference’.

The rest of the morning meeting was pretty laid back, with some undertones. The Chair, Mr. Boychenko first asserted that the ‘Rolling Text’ needed to be adopted as the basis for the working document. Syria immediately piped up saying that this would in no way negate their right to come back to the older texts, including the January 23 one. Sudan wants a reconfirmation of the DDPA, ‘no more no less’ and Pakistan said on behalf of the OIC that they had shown the utmost restrained and expected the same from their discussion partners.

All this veiled ‘you better behave’ language. What a ritual. Next the Chair tried to pull a fast one by firing of a whole lot of Para numbers and suggested that those could be ‘adopted ‘ad ref’ (in one go) by the meeting. This did not succeed. Here’s a scan with those paragraphs.

Notable was the relative quiet of the EU delegations in the morning. Strategy? Inertia? Luckily it got somewhat better in the afternoon. Also notable was Iran, which came in late since they, and a few other delegations were held for 45 minutes at the security bunker because their accreditation papers got lost. The Iranian delegate complained about that but lauded Boychenko for the new working document. Iran turned all flowery, calling the chair a Magician but at the same time said that all ‘their paragraphs’ were dropped from the text. They made the gracious offer to come with a written contribution to correct this problem. Boychenko wisely ignored this. Later in the day delegates talked about all kinds of elephants (see report from the plenary) and on the NGO side an interesting situation presented itself. See further. Tomorrow we will start only at 11am (practically that will make it 11.30) because of private meetings probably. The Intersessional ends Thursday afternoon at 6pm. Friday there will be no meetings since it is the Christian holiday good Friday. More tomorrow. As Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, ‘Abusus non tollit usum’

Ronald Eissens

To follow events from Geneva as they unfold, bookmark the ICARE website and visit daily.

BHL on the Durban Review Conference

Benjamin Pogrund on Durban Review

Benjamin Pogrund

Benjamin Pogrund

This piece, by Benjamin Pogrund, is on Comment is free.

The world’s struggle against racism is heading for the same severe setback it suffered eight years ago. The damage is being inflicted as the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva prepares draft resolutions for the Durban Review Conference due there from April 20 to 25. Islamic countries are insisting on wording that will assail Israel and which will equate criticism of a religious faith with violation of human rights.

This week, on Thursday, Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini was reported to have announced that his country is pulling out because of the “aggressive and antisemitic statements” in the text. Canada and Israel have already said they will not take part. The United States has withdrawn, saying the draft text is “not salvageable”. The Netherlands, France, Denmark, Germany and Belgium are expressing their worries.

The Dutch foreign affairs minister, Maxime Verhagen, told the council this week: “I am deeply disturbed by the turn this event is taking. The thematic world conference is used by some to try to force their concept of defamation of religions and their focus on one regional conflict on all of us.”

The references to Israel and the protection of religion in draft texts were unacceptable, he said. “We cannot accept any text which would put religion above individuals, not condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, condone antisemitism or single out Israel.”

It all has a horribly familiar ring, except that this time EU nations are lodging their objections in advance. The first World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, was intended as a high point in the battle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. It was an especially proud event for the South African host in celebrating the end of apartheid seven years earlier.

However, problems began in the initial conference of NGOs attended by 4,000 people from many parts of the world. Israel was singled out as the target. It was condemned in resolutions as “the new apartheid”, and accused of racism, genocide and much else. A raft of resolutions urged boycotts and its exclusion from the world.

The west, and especially the United States, also came under fierce attack with reparations demanded for the slave trade. Washington’s (black) secretary of state, Colin Powell, who was not present, gave some perspective to this by publicly asking whether he would have to pay or be paid.

The NGO resolutions were carried into the succeeding conference of governments (I was a member of the Israeli delegation, invited to join because of my knowledge of apartheid). The extreme wording and the vicious tone at the NGO conference, inside the hall and in the marching and chanting crowds in the streets, proved too much: four days into the eight-day conference, the United States delegation walked out, followed by the Israelis.

The EU also threatened to quit. As the conference became strangled by controversy and was in danger of collapse, the resolutions were rapidly redrafted to excise the ugly references to Israel, leaving only a declaration supporting Palestinians and Israel’s existence. The slavery issue disappeared.

In a review last year, the Netherlands-based ICARE (Internet Centre Anti-Racism Europe) noted that both the NGO and government conference “suffered from hate-mongering and extreme politicisation”. It said the discrimination against Dalits in India and Roma in Europe had not even featured in the final governmental declaration.

Less than a week after Durban, 9/11 captured the headlines. Anti-racism went onto the backburner. But anger and disappointment about Durban’s wild excesses went on simmering and, seven months later, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, spoke bluntly at the annual conference of the country’s Zionist Federation. He referred to the “disgraceful events” surrounding the NGO conference and said: “I wish to make it unequivocally clear that the South African government recognises that part of that component was hijacked and used by some with an anti-Israeli agenda to turn it into an antisemitic event.” That was precisely why, he added, that the world’s governments had refused to accept the NGO resolutions.

When the UN decided to organise a follow-up conference to check the extent of progress against racism, Durban was the elephant in the room. As preparatory meetings got underway last year, it was clear that there was a universal desire to ensure there would not be any repetition of 2001. It was to be called the Durban Review Conference. It was definitely not to be referred to as Durban 2. Initial thoughts of meeting again in South Africa were put aside. The role of NGOs was played down; no money could be found for a separate conference for them.

But the anti-Israel forces began to assert themselves. The attacks increased: Canada saw what was building up and was the first to walk out, nearly a year ago. The “Zionism is racism” claim, long discredited at the UN, was heard again.

The draft resolutions now say that Israel’s policy in the Palestinian territories constitutes a “violation of international human rights, a crime against humanity and a contemporary form of apartheid”. Also, Israel poses “a serious threat to international peace and security and violates the basic principles of international human rights law”.

In other words, the draft sets out to equate Israel with apartheid South Africa so that it can be declared a pariah state and be made subject to international sanctions.

Together with this, Muslim countries have been pushing for wording to protect Islam from criticism. Angry about Danish newspaper cartoons and films, they want to oulaw any criticism of religion as a violation of human rights. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said this week that the conference should deal with contemporary forms of racism such as religious profiling and Islamophobia.

The new Obama administration sent two senior officials to attend the meetings preparing for the conference. But a week ago, the State Department announced that the “document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable. A conference based on this text would be a missed opportunity to speak clearly about the persistent problem of racism.” It said the US will not take part unless resolutions do not criticise any one country or conflict.

The 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, aided and abetted by members of the Human Rights Council such as Libya, Iran and Cuba, is pressing ahead.

The UN’s chief human rights official, Navi Pillay, is understandably urging all states to attend next month. She warns that the failure of Durban 2 could damage human rights work for years to come. But the omens are not good.

This piece, by Benjamin Pogrund, is on Comment is free.

Italy pulls out of Durban Review Conference

Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy has withdrawn its delegation from the preparatory negotiations ahead of the so-called Durban II conference due to “aggressive and anti-Semitic statements” in the draft of the event’s final document.

Associated Press

US State Department Statement on Durban Review

US State departmentOn the State Department website.

This Administration is committed to diplomacy and to active and effective engagement with international institutions, which can play a vital role in addressing the challenges we face. The United States looks forward to engaging with our partners around the world to build a more peaceful and secure world.

The Administration is also strongly committed to fighting racism and discrimination. Consistent with that commitment, and with the goal of trying to achieve a positive constructive result in the Durban Review Conference, the United States recently sent a distinguished delegation to attend the ongoing negotiations on the draft outcome document.

Our delegates met with over 30 delegations, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and other interested parties. In addition, the Department consulted with many governments in capitals regarding our effort. The engagement by the U.S. delegation was widely welcomed and appreciated.
Sadly, however, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable. As a result, the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text. A conference based on this text would be a missed opportunity to speak clearly about the persistent problem of racism.

The United States remains open to a positive result in Geneva based on a document that takes a constructive approach to tackling the challenges of racism and discrimination. The U.S. believes any viable text for the Review Conference must be shortened and not reaffirm in toto the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA). It must not single out any one country or conflict, nor embrace the troubling concept of “defamation of religion.” The U.S. also believes an acceptable document should not go further than the DDPA on the issue of reparations for slavery.

We will observe developments in Geneva and in capitals to see if such an outcome emerges. We would be prepared to re-engage if a document that meets these criteria becomes the basis for deliberations.

On the UN Human Rights Council, we share the concerns of many that the Council’s trajectory is disturbing, that it needs fundamental change to do more to promote and protect the human rights of people around the world, and that it should end its repeated and unbalanced criticisms of Israel.

We believe, however, it furthers our interests and will do more both to achieve these ends and advance human rights if we are part of the conversation and present at the Council’s proceedings.

Accordingly, we will participate in this month’s Human Rights Council session as an observer and will use the opportunity to strengthen old partnerships and forge new ones. These times demand seriousness and candor, and we pledge to closely work with our partners in the international community to avoid politicization and to achieve our shared goals.

Our participation as an observer is a sign of the commitment of the Administration to advancing the cause of human rights in the multilateral arena. We look forward to the help and cooperation of our friends and allies to ensure the Human Rights Council focuses on the pressing human rights concerns of our time.

Via the most excellent ICARE, the Internet Centre Against Racism in Europe

For an excellent account of what it was like to be at the UN and NGO global conferences against racism in 2001, and the antisemitic atmosphere which developed there, read The Durban Diaries.

The UN, the media and antisemitism – Brian Henry

This article previously appeared in the January 6, 2009, Jewish Tribune (, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada.

The best thing about the General Assembly of the United Nations is that it’s almost always ignored. This was brought home to me recently when I was scanning the reader comments on a story about Israel in the Globe and Mail.

Among the usual accusations that the Jews control the media and similar “criticism of Israel” as they like to call it, one reader complained that Israel had kicked out the UN human rights rapporteur.

It was the first I’d heard of it. A minute’s research showed that Press TV played the story big, but then Press TV is owned by the antisemitic regime in Iran. The Israeli media covered it of course, and so did other media that pays special attention to Israel. But the Canadian media ignored the story.

Why? Two reasons I think. First, because the media mostly ignores international antisemitism. Second, because when it comes to human rights, the UN has no credibility. The UN Human Rights Council is a club for the world’s worst human rights abusers, and Richard Falk, the rapporteur whom Israel kicked out, embodies the UN’s perverse perspective.

Falk believes international law gives Hamas the “right of resistance.” But while giving Hamas a pass, Falk compares Israelis to Nazis, a comparison so far removed from reality that it can only be understood as Jew-baiting – the 21st Century equivalent of calling Jews “kikes.”

Mind you, Falk isn’t deluded only about Israel. He also suspects that the U.S. of inflicting the September 11 terrorist attacks on itself. Any day, I’m expecting to read that Falk believes the moon landing was faked, too.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, president of the UN General Assembly, condemned Israel for expelling Falk. But then d’Escoto has his own Jewish problem. In September, president Ahmadinejad of Iran gave an antisemitic rant at the UN, saying that “Zionists” (meaning Jews) control the money supply and secretly rule “some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner.”

Barack Obama, president-elect of the U.S. condemned Ahmadinejad’s words as hateful and antisemitic. Miguel d’Escoto President of the UN General Assembly reacted rather differently: he embraced Ahmadinejad in a warm hug.

But d’Escoto doesn’t just embrace the Jew-hatred of others. Every year at the end of November, the General Assembly mourns the creation of Israel with a “UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”

This year, the General Assembly went beyond even its usual Israel-bashing when d’Escoto called for an organized boycott against Israel to force it into submission and accused Israel of “crucifying” the Palestinians.

D’Escoto, I should note, is a Catholic priest who’s been suspended by the Vatican – but for his political activities on behalf of Nicaragua’s corrupt governments, not for the kind of religious antisemitism rejected by the Vatican and embodied in accusations of Jews crucifying people.

Mostly, the media ignored d’Escoto’s capers, just as it ignores the Human Rights Council’s squirrely rapporteur, just as it ignores almost everything coming out of the UN’s General Assembly, because really, who can take the place seriously?

But Ahmadinejad is serious. He’s the president of a bellicose nation on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons, and the world media widely reported Ahmadinejad’s speech to the UN. For the most part, though, the media gave no hint that his speech was infused with Jew-hatred.

The CBC focused on Ahmadinejad’s complaints of U.S. “bullying,” a complaint likely to gain approval from the CBC’s audience. The Toronto Star’s Olivia Ward began her report by claiming that Ahmadinejad took “a high moral tone.” It was left to the more rightwing CanWest media to report Ahmadinejad’s antisemitic ranting.

It seems the Iranian regime’s Jew-hatred doesn’t fit the agenda our more left-leaning media. Even the Globe and Mail carried an AP story that stated merely that Ahmadinejad “criticized Israel.”

Such bleaching of reality seems to be what passes for objectivity in the media these days. Thus, for example, did the BBC report in Mumbai that “gunmen” (not “terrorists” of course) were “holding people captive in an office block.”

To report that these “people” were Jews and that the “office block” was the only Jewish community centre in a city of millions of Hindus might remind viewers that the “militants” subscribe to a genocidal Jew-hatred. The BBC evidently felt that would be too real, not their sort of objectivity at all.

Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor and a refugee from the NDP – Canada’s social democratic party. He blogs sporadically here:

UNSC Resolution 1850 (2008) affirms support for Annapolis outcomes

United Nations press release for the 6045th meeting of the UN Security Council (16th December) which affirmed support for the outcomes agreed at Annapolis. The only member not to support the resolution was Libya, which abstained.

The text:

“The Security Council,

“Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions, in particular resolutions 242, 338, 1397, and 1515 and the Madrid principles,

“Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

“Welcoming the 9 November 2008 statement from the Quartet and the Israeli‑Palestinian Joint Understanding announced at the November 2007 Annapolis Conference, including in relation to implementation of the Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,

“Noting also that lasting peace can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement, and terror, and the two-State solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations,

“Noting the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative,

“Encouraging the Quartet’s ongoing work to support the parties in their efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,

“1.   Declares its support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis, Maryland, on 27 November 2007 and its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations;

“2.   Supports the parties’ agreed principles for the bilateral negotiating process and their determined efforts to reach their goal of concluding a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, which confirm the seriousness of the Annapolis process;

“3.   Calls on both parties to fulfil their obligations under the Performance-Based Roadmap, as stated in their Annapolis Joint Understanding, and refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations;

“4.   Calls on all States and international organizations to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations and to support the Palestinian government that is committed to the Quartet principles and the Arab Peace Initiative and respects the commitments of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to assist in the development of the Palestinian economy, to maximize the resources available to the Palestinian Authority, and to contribute to the Palestinian institution‑building programme in preparation for statehood;

“5.   Urges an intensification of diplomatic efforts to foster in parallel with progress in the bilateral process mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence between all States in the region in the context of achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;

“6.   Welcomesthe Quartet’s consideration, in consultation with the parties, of an international meeting in Moscow in 2009;

“7.   Decides to remain seized of the matter.”