Durban II’s rocky start/ Iran Policy

Apr 21, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

April 21, 2009
Number 04/09 #05

As readers will no doubt be aware, the UN Durban Review Conference in now under way in Geneva.  This is designed as a follow-up to the infamous 2001 Durban “anti-racism” conference, which was marred by large-scale antisemitism, as well as the singling out of Israel as the only country named as “racist.” It was feared that the current conference would repeat or reinforce this ugly outcome, leading many states to decided in the end not to attend, including Australia. (Other recent pull-outs included the US, New ZealandGermany  and the Netherlands, with Sweden reducing its level of representation, joining Canada, Israel and Italy.) These fears seemed to be vindicated when the conference opened with a key-note address by Iranian President Ahmadinejad which questioned the Holocaust, declared Israel a racist genocidal regime and demanded its destruction, prompting a walkout by most Europeans states (and a permanent departure by the Czechs), as well as Jordan and Morocco.

First up, Dr. Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University and NGO Monitor argues that Ahmadinejad’s speech has effectively ended the Durban process. He argues that, while unplanned, the diatribe capped the efforts by Jewish and other groups to convince Westerners that the Durban process had been fundamentally compromised in 2001 by the introduction of various malicious political agendas, including singling out Israel. He says Ahmadinejad helped convince most of them that the way forward lies in burying Durban and adopting a new approach less amenable to abuse by NGOs and despotic regimes. For his  complete argument, CLICK HERE. Steinberg had an earlier interesting comment on the bureaucratic lead-up to the Durban opening here.

Next up, Roger Simon, author, Hollywood screenwriter and blogger, writes from Geneva about the extraordinary response to Ahmadinejad’s speech. He describes a “stampede” of walkouts precipitated by Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, argues that the speech makes Durban a pro-racist, rather than anti-racist event, and describes events as a “powerful blow”  to the prestige of the UN. Simon also got into Ahmadinejad’s press conference and describes what the Iranian President had to say as Orwellian. For his full account, CLICK HERE. Earlier Simon blogged about his discovery that Ahmadinejad and his entourage were sharing the same hotel with him ( and of how American Law professor Alan Dershowitz was ejected by security after trying to confront Ahmadinejad), plus he filed a video report on Ahmadinejad speech and reactions.

Finally. Dr. Emily Landau, one of Israel’s most promising younger security affairs academics, takes on the argument that efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program have failed so far because they were too “harsh and uncompromising.” Dr. Landau recounts the history of efforts to stop Iran up to now, especially during the Bush Administration, and debunks some myths claiming that the Administration refused to engage and relegated the Iranians to the “axis of evil” without offering a way forward. She concludes, rather than being the result of a “too harsh approach… past failures [with Iran] are attributable primarily to a crippling lack of international coordination and determination in applying pressure on Iran.” For her complete argument, CLICK HERE. Two security analysts, Mark Dubowitz and Joshua D. Goodman, discuss how Iran can successfully be influenced by sanctions. Meanwhile, former top Israeli general and security expert Giora Eiland says Israelis fear that the US administration may strike a deal that allows Iran to continue enriching uranium under ineffective safeguards.

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Analysis: Ahmadinejad buries the Durban process

Gerald Steinberg


The corridor discussions in the United Nations building before Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s arrival focused on two questions: Would he tone down his usual Holocaust denial and threats against Israel in order to appear reasonable? And if not, would diplomats from countries like Britain, France and Norway – those that decided to participate in contrast to Canada, the US, Italy and Germany –     their pledge to walkout if the “red lines” of Holocaust denial and racism were crossed.

We did not have long to wait – the speech was as bad as or worse than the usual Iranian diatribes, and the European diplomats left, being embraced and cheered by Jewish students, NGO leaders and human rights mentors Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz.

These momentous events took place on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Citing the theme “never again,” participants agreed that this should also mark the end of the Durban process that began at the infamous UN anti-racism conference in that city in 2001. Instead of focusing on real examples of discrimination and mass murder, that event had been hijacked to attack Israel using terms such as apartheid, war crimes and racism. In the official NGO forum, participants that included Human Rights Watch and Amnesty adopted a boycott strategy.

Israel and Jews around the world recognized that this demonization and delegitimation was as dangerous as the physical war and terror campaigns, and in some ways more sinister. For the past eight years, a strategy was developed to combat and defeat the threat. In Geneva, this approach proved successful.

Ahmadinejad’s appearance was not a scenario in this strategy – his visit had been announced just one week before the opening session, by which time most of the counterattack mechanism was already in place. The first stage was to prevent another poisonous NGO Forum by “naming and shaming” the funders of the 2001 version, including the Ford Foundation and the Canadian government. UN officials agreed not to grant official sponsorship despite demands from vitriolic NGOs such as Badil (the Palestinian “right of return” lobby funded by European governments) and the Libyan-linked North-South 21 organization. These events were still held, but with very limited participation or impact.

In parallel, during the long negotiations over the draft text for the government conference, Jewish community leaders and Israelis repeatedly held intensive meetings with Western democratic delegations to highlight the destructive impact of singling out Israel for condemnation in the Durban process. Canada, which had been a major supporter of Durban 2001, was the first to recognize the damage, and the US, Italy and others followed.

Thus, when the first session began, the point had been made and the chairs of many delegations were empty, even before Ahmadinejad’s arrival. In addition, the language of the draft declaration that required months of detailed negotiations was largely toned down. The main problem, as President Obama eloquently stated on the evening before the grand opening, was that the entire process had been built on the failed foundations of the 2001 Durban catastrophe. In that case, what had been advertised as an anti-racism conference became a source of racism directed at Israel. To restore the moral foundation of universal human rights, an entirely new structure would be necessary.

In this sense, the Iranian president’s latest hate speech confirmed to all that the Durban process must be totally repudiated before a new foundation for human rights can emerge. This conference has only begun – it is due to continue through Thursday – but Ahmadinejad has already demonstrated that there is no sense in holding any more diplomatic negotiations to find language that involves singling out Israel in any way. Instead, the focus should shift to developing an entirely new approach that prevents further abuses of moral principles by regimes or NGOs that exploit human rights. The sooner the Durban process is dead and buried, the faster a replacement will be developed.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg is executive director of NGO Monitor and chair of the Political Science Department at Bar Ilan University.

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Durban II Diary – Part 3: The Clowning of Ahmadinejad

Pajamas Media, April 20th, 2009 3:50 pm

It’s clear now – the Durban Review Conference is not an anti-racism conference; it’s a pro-racism conference, sponsored by the UN.  But more of that anon.  Meanwhile…

I have had enough of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to last me a lifetime.  He’s gone now, departed from this hotel with his entourage that I was told had taken forty rooms, the men with the machine guns vanished from the corridors and balconies.  Earlier this evening there had been a party in the mezzanine for five hundred of his closest friends, which, goaded on by Claudia Rosett (she is more intrepid than I), we tried to crash.  We didn’t get very far but I suspect Claudia, the only woman in sight without a hijab, had as much chance of getting in as I do of  flying a biplane to Jupiter.

But perhaps she was jealous because she only arrived this afternoon in Geneva and missed the extraordinary events that occurred in the Palais des Nations today. Even now, many hours later, it’s hard to digest them, hard to even conceive that I was there.  But the UN itself may have received a powerful  blow to its prestige from which it will never recover.  Given the circumstances, it doesn’t deserve to.

It all began for me around three o’clock.  I was in Room 17, a giant meeting hall and had my eyes fixed, as did two or three hundred others, at the large television screen on stage.  Ahmadinejad was beginning to address the conference in the main assembly hall just below us. But there was no English language translation coming out of my earphone.  I was puzzled, but I wasn’t alone.  What was the demon saying?  Alan Dershowitz, seated directly behind me, was the first to speak out.  He jumped to his feet and cried out, demanding the right to a translation of the Iranian’s speech.  In my room at least, there was uniform agreement. People started crying out in frustration for a translation that wasn’t forthcoming.  What was going on with the UN, where simultaneous translation was a given?

Just then, on the television screen,  a couple of kids in clown suits  started demonstrating in the aisles in front of Ahmadinejad.  It seemed surreal.  (I later learned they were members of a European Jewish delegation.)  Everyone in my room appeared amazed, even pleased, but the clowns were unceremoniously escorted from the hall and Ahmadinejad resumed his speech.  I thought this was some minor interruption of the sort one frequently sees in the US, but in what seemed like seconds, a number of national delegates were standing up in their seats in front of Ahmadinejad and walking out in his face. These included France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, the UK, etc… all countries that, I knew, had made a big deal about attending the conference, not the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands – that honor roll of countries with the sense to realize what a fiasco this was in front and refused to participate (how good they look now!).

This walkout precipitated, if anything, a bigger response in the room I was in where almost everyone was on their feet now, shouting at Ahmadinejad and racing for the door. I found my cameraman and headed down stairs toward the main salon.  It was almost like a stampede at that point – right in the United Nations – people were so appalled by Ahmadinejad.  We took a lot of footage of this with commentary by Dershowitz, Shelby Steele and John Voigt, which you will be able to see on PJTV.

Still, by then,  I had only heard snippets of what Ahmadinejad had said that had prompted this reaction. Soon, however, it was all too clear. Here is a translation of just one passage – reprinted verbatim in their own English – provided by the perpetrators themselves, the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN:

“Following the World War Two, they [the West? Security Council members?] resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and the dubious question of holocaust. [sic]  They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and from other parts of the world to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine…”

So there you have it – Holocaust denial in what was ostensibly the main speech of the Durban Review Conference.  The Vatican (among others) condemned this as “extremist and unacceptable.” I have heard too that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is quite concerned about the fallout this will have for the UN, particularly for it’s heavily US financed pocketbook, if the American people start to have enough of this reactionary nonsense masquerading as anti-racism.

But wait – there’s more.

Because I had a press pass, I was able to attend Ahmadinejad’s press conference immediately after the walkouts. I didn’t really want to, but I felt, well, as they say, in for a dime, in for a dollar.  This room too was jam-packed. I kept debating whether to ask a question, not that I could have. Only about six were answered. Ahmadinejad drones on and on, of course. Listening to him answer questions is terrifying and instructive at once. I know this sounds like a bit of an exaggeration (and, yes, I’m aware of Godwin’s Law) but it must be a little like it was to have listened to Hitler and Stalin. Language is turned upside down. Everything is its opposite. “Democracy” is totalitarianism. “Human rights” are oppression. “Freedom” is repression. You head starts to spin. I think I remember from 1984 that Winston Smith got a headache listening to that kind of language. I can well understand it.

I’m too tired now to go on. It’s one in the morning here in Geneva. I am looking out the hotel window to make sure he is gone. What remains as a question is who allowed Ahmadinejad to speak at this conference in such a prominent position? It would be interesting to find out – and to understand their reasoning. More later.

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Too harsh and uncompromising?



It has become commonplace to assume that the transition from US president George W. Bush to Barack Obama signals a move away from a unilateral, harsh, uncompromising and even militant approach toward Iran to a newfound willingness to embrace dialogue and engagement on the basis of an acceptance of the current regime.

Many seem to believe that the past failures to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear ambitions are due to the uncompromising approach of the Bush administration; they hold high hopes for the new US president who is finally willing to reasonably sort out the problem by sitting down to talk to Iranian leaders on equal standing and with respect. His extended hand to Iran’s leaders can be expected to encourage Iran to unclench its fist.

But how accurate is this depiction of the past, and how realistic are the hopes that by expressing willingness to negotiate unconditionally, Obama will be in a better position to improve relations with Iran? Most importantly, will this defuse the crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Looking back at the attempts to confront Iran’s nuclear activities since 2002, the record of the Bush administration is somewhat different from what is commonly assumed. While the axis of evil statement of January 2002 is repeated over and over to prove Bush’s harsh approach toward Iran, his State of the Union of the following year is rarely quoted. In this January 2003 speech Bush set out the logic of “different strategies for different threats” that charted a different course for Iran, one that involved working with other governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency – clearly setting Iran apart from Iraq. Bush subsequently supported the efforts of the EU-3 (Germany, France and Britain) to negotiate with Iran from 2003 to 2005; these efforts were discontinued only when the Europeans became convinced that Iran was not negotiating in good faith.

Moreover, even in light of that experience, in May 2006 secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced that the US would be willing to join direct negotiations with Iran if it suspended uranium enrichment. This became the position of Europe as well, and was thereafter reflected in the UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 to 2008 which demanded that Iran cease uranium enrichment activities and imposed some (not very harsh) economic sanctions.

Finally, since March 2008 no further decisions or steps have been taken against Iran, and over the summer of 2008 the US (under Bush) clarified that the military option was no longer even on the table.

THE PROBLEMS of past attempts to confront Iran have not been the result of a too harsh approach; quite the opposite is true. Past failures are attributable primarily to a crippling lack of international coordination and determination in applying pressure on Iran for its past deceptions and current noncompliance. More determined pressure could have helped to impress upon Iran that negotiations for a deal would be better than the alternative of continued defiance of the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

In fact, the lack of international determination was skillfully exploited by Iran to gain the valuable time it needed to push its nuclear program forward. And even facing Obama’s attempt to reach out, Iran continues to stall, playing for time. In a cynical twist, it is trying to turn the tables on the US: Obama’s offer of change enables its leaders to shift the burden of proof from Iran to the US. You say you have changed? Prove it. Show us you have changed your policies – maybe start with your policy toward Israel.

Obama’s policies may still succeed in defusing the nuclear crisis, but in a very different way. Not by getting Iran to back away from its nuclear ambitions and cooperate with the international community on a different basis, but by containing it in the nuclear realm through deterrence, and limiting its potential to cause direct damage with nuclear missiles by beefing up missile defense capabilities throughout the region. But this of course would not indicate success for Obama’s new approach – it would rather signify its failure.

It would also leave the Middle East exposed to the major fear that states in the region harbor – not a calculated Iranian attempt to strike with nuclear weapons, but rather the enhanced and dangerous regional clout that Iran would gain by achieving nuclear status (whether assumed or proven). Indications of the havoc that Iran can wreak are already being felt region-wide.

The writer is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University.

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