Australia/Israel Review


The Last Word: Durban Sprawl

Oct 2, 2006 | Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones

Duban Sprawl

On the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September, 2001, I took part in a dignified ceremony where diplomats and other representatives of countries including the USA, Turkey, France and Israel lit memorial candles for the victims of terrorism.

The memorial service was in Toronto, where I was participating in the International Symposium on Hate on the Internet. My presentation covered subjects such as: the promotion of hate on the internet by some Australians and the legal regime in place to provide recourse to victims; the use of newer technology such as text messaging to abuse and threaten individuals and the first Australian court hearing addressing this technology’s abuse for antisemitic purposes; the various reviews and legislative measures which primarily address pornography on the internet and tangentially relate to racism on that medium; and the way in which an awareness of, and concern with, terrorism, has provided governments with new tools with which to deal with hate literature.

But, as a number of discussants noted, it is not only the technology which is evolving. The way in which anti-Jewish racism in 2006 is articulated is at least as relevant as the media in which it is expressed, which is why it is important to note that September 2006 is the fifth anniversary of another notorious event.

The anti-racism conference that turned into a festival of racism lives on

The now infamous United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, concluded just days before the world as we know it was so dramatically and brutally changed.

WCAR could have been a significant step forward in developing strategies and coordination to combat prejudice, and the Australian working group of Non-Government Organisations leading up to the Conference was probably a “best practice” example of what could have been done internationally.

I was a representative of that working group who was included on the Australian Government delegation to the Conference itself. I was also a World Jewish Congress delegate to the Non-Government Organisation Forum which preceded it. I was to witness first hand how, as Canadian MP and fellow delegate Irwin Cotler put it, “a conference purportedly organised to fight racism was turned into a festival of racism against Israel and the Jewish people…A conference dedicated to the promotion of human rights as the new secular religion of our time increasingly singled out Israel as a sort of modern-day geopolitical Anti-Christ.”

I recorded some of the more abhorrent events in this magazine on my return from the Conferences (October 2001 issue). I have clear memories of the way chest-thumping left-wingers worked hand in hand with unreconstructed antisemites who were distributing caricatures of hook-nosed, talon-handed Jews dripping blood from vampire-like teeth and copies of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; “progressive” session chairs tolerated and seemed to enjoy hecklers chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew” or yelling “Israeli dog”. And there was the thunderous lack of reaction after a large mob marched under the slogan that it was a pity Hitler hadn’t killed all Jews. These have been auguries of the progress of antisemitism in this country.

At Durban, I placed myself on so-called left-wing e-mail lists, using an address set up for that purpose. The result was a flood of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-US conspiracy theories and unsophisticated propaganda.

Seamless transitions between overt antisemitism, anti-Jewish prejudice articulated as criticism of Israel/Zionism, political criticisms of Israel, Trotskyist anti-nationalism, Iranian-inspired Islamist imperialism and rationalisations for genocide were the order of the day there and have become increasingly prevalent globally.

As Cotler put it, “In sum, Durban became the tipping point for the coalescence of a new, virulent, globalising anti-Jewishness reminiscent of the atmospherics that pervaded Europe in the 1930s. In its lethal form, this animus finds expression as state-sanctioned genocidal anti-Semitism, such as that embraced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and its terrorist proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah.”

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