The American Jewish Committee Missteps on Durban II

by Jerry Gordon (March 2009)


Melanie Phillips, in a Spectator blog posting entitled “The Fifth Columnist in the White House”, had the following comment about Felice Gaer. Gaer was a member of the U.S. delegation attending the pre-Durban II- World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) Review Conference in Geneva, Feb. 16th to 19th.

In [Obama’s] delegation at Geneva, taking part in this process of delegitimizing the Jewish state while pretending to put a brake on the process, is one Felice Gaer, a senior official of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) [and Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] (USCIRF).
Caroline Glick in her Jerusalem Post column of February 19th, “Obama’s Durban Gambit” took the AJC to task for compounding the errors of Durban I. She said:

For the  past two years, the American Jewish Committee has been instrumental in convincing the American Jewish community to reject repeated Israeli requests that they call for a US boycott of Durban II. To secure US participation over Israel’s objections, the AJC even went so far as to sign a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her not to boycott the conference.

In return for the AJC’s labors, its senior operative Felice Gaer is now a member of the US delegation in Geneva. Happily ensconced in the Swiss conference room where the Holocaust is denied, the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is reviled, and Israel’s right to defend itself is rejected, Gaer now sits silently, all the while using the fact of her membership in the US delegation as proof that the Obama administration is serious about protecting Israel at Durban II.

Whatever the AJC may have gained for its support for Durban II, Israel and its supporters have clearly been harmed.

David Harris, executive director of the AJC wasted no time and responded to Glick’s remarks in a
letter to the Jerusalem Post on February 22nd.

Our position on Durban II is clear. We have publicly praised France and the Netherlands, among other countries, for insisting on clear red lines and threatening to withdraw if they are breached. We believe the United States shouldn’t attend the Conference under the present circumstances.

This leaves two options: to throw up our hands, or to work to change those circumstances. The United States Government has decided to send a delegation to Geneva to learn about the preparatory process first-hand and see if it is beyond repair.

Ms. Glick suspects nefarious motives. After all, she has already made clear her ideological unwillingness to believe anything President Obama says. He’s just a “radical” who is “actively advancing the interests of Islamists” — obviously.

We, however, choose to work with our government to assess whether Durban is beyond salvaging. We are proud that Felice Gaer, director of AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, is playing a prominent role in that effort. Contrary to Ms. Glick’s spiteful accusation, we received nothing “in return” for anything.

If Durban can be fixed, everybody wins — not least, the global struggle against racism, to which AJC has been committed for more than a century. If it can’t, we will absolutely seek to hold the Administration to its promise to withdraw.

Come on, Caroline. You can do better — if you take off the blinders.

This frankly came as a shock, having known the AJC’s positions on such matters and having met on a few occasions, Ms. Gaer, when she came to talk to fellow members of the New York City chapter of the AJC while I was a member of the board there in the first half of this decade. The AJC was then training lay people to engage in diplomatic outreach, whether in Manhattan, Washington or in major cities around the US. I can recall one occasion, a model Passover Seder at
Temple Emanuel in Manhattan, when an Omani UN representative showed up at a cocktail reception and I engaged him in conversation. As I recall the AJC prided itself on being the “State Department of the American Jewish Community.”
That was then. Now, at the start of the Obama Administration there is another ‘diplomatic outreach’ to the Muslim ummah (world community of believers) and a disquieting attempt to engage with more than 30 delegations at the planning session for the Durban II Review Conference scheduled on April 20-24. I had written that Durban II will be the first test of Madame Secretary Clinton and the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in an op-ed entitled: “
US to help plan Durban II- Hillary’s First Big mistake.   In that piece I noted:

Israel had announced last November that it would boycott the hate filled meetings at the UNHRC sponsored Durban II WCAR event in Geneva. Canada to its credit had already announced that it would not attend. The Dutch foreign minister, despite waffling on the Wilders House of Lords affair, indicated that they might reject attendance at the UNHRC Durban II WCAR hate fest. This UNHRC Durban II WCAR event has been orchestrated by members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to treat Israel and Zionism as ‘racist’ and intimidate ‘free speech,’ an Orwellian reference to any criticism of Islam. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been relentless in pursuit of UN General Assembly and UNHRC resolutions virtually criminalizing ‘insulting behavior’ towards Islam. The recent Amsterdam appeals court decision subjecting courageous Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders in Holland to criminal prosecution is the latest manifestation of this strategy. The UK home office’s decision by the Gordon Brown government in Whitehall barring Wilders to enter the country and speak at a private gathering of the House of Lords is the latest example of knuckling under to such intimidation by Muslim advocacy groups in a major Western country. Lord Ahmed, the lone Muslim Labor member of the House of Lords threatened to bring 10,000 British Muslims to protest Wilders showing of his controversial film, “Fitna” (Chaos in Arabic) at the British House of Lords. The UK government painted Wilders as an ‘extremist’ for exercising his free speech rights in criticizing Islam.

Anne Bayefsky in a New York Daily op ed on January 30th entitled,
“The UN Insanity Continues”,  revealed the Durban II agenda that I thought would be abhorrent to the Board of Governors of the AJC. Bayefsky noted:

Negotiators have now put on the table claims that:

(1) a homeland for the Jewish people is racism – a “racially based law of return,”
(2) Israel is guilty of “apartheid” and
(3) the veracity of the murder of one-third of the Jewish people during the Holocaust is subject to question.

A reference to Holocaust facts has now been “square-bracketed” because Iran and Syria have questioned the numbers of Jews that died and consensus is the only guiding principle governing the decision-making process.

In total, six provisions are dedicated to demonizing Israel as racist. Not one of the other 191 UN states is mentioned. The intention is clear: the political defeat of Israel in the same vein as apartheid South Africa, because repeated attempts at a military defeat of Israel have failed.

But Israel is not the only target of Islamic and Arab states and their developing world partners. The draft takes straight aim at freedom of expression and counter-terrorism. Free speech should supposedly be curtailed by new laws against “projecting negative, insulting and derogatory images of religions and religious personalities” and the introduction of “a code of ethical conduct” for the media.
The composition and agenda for the American delegation at the planning session for the Durban II Review Conference were revealed in this
Statement issued, Feb. 18th by Gordon K. Duguid, Acting Deputy Spokesman of the US Geneva mission:

The United States sent a delegation to Geneva to engage in a broad range of consultations on the Durban Review Conference. The delegation was led by Mark Storella, Chargé d’Affaires for the US Mission in Geneva. The delegation included as private delegates, Betty King, the distinguished former Ambassador to ECOSOC and Felice Gaer, a leader in the human rights community who currently serves as Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

We sent this delegation to work with countries that want to achieve a successful review conference that focuses on combating racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance and to explore whether it is going to be possible to focus the Durban Review Conference on these serious issues. The United States had not previously participated in preparations for the Durban Review Conference because of our strong reservations about the direction of the conference, as the draft document singles out Israel for criticism, places unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression under the guise of defaming religion, and calls for payment of reparations for slavery.

While in Geneva, the delegation consulted with 30 national delegations from every region to outline our concerns with the current outcome document and to explore whether there exists the possibility for progress in re-shaping the document and tenor of the discussions. The delegation also attended the informal negotiations of the working group tasked with developing the draft conference outcome document and met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.  

The United States has not made a decision about participating in the Durban Review Conference or about whether to engage in future preparations for the Conference, but the work done this week will be important information for taking these decisions. The World Conference Against Racism is scheduled to take place in Geneva from April 20-24, 2009.

Bayefsky in an NRO blog article Thursday, Feb. 19th, entitled: 
“Durban II Planning “ revealed more about this Durban II pre-planning conference with Felice Gaer present as part of the American delegation:

Ignoring these warnings, the U.S. sent a seven-person delegation to a preparatory meeting in Geneva this week — without asking anything of conference sponsors in return. The State Department explained the decision as an effort “to try to change the direction in which the Review Conference is heading.” But the delegation’s behavior during the week, which began by expressing “strong reservations about a document singling out Israel for criticism,” more closely resembles a double-cross.

On Wednesday, the European Union proposed a provision for the final document — which is to be adopted formally at the Conference itself in April — on the Holocaust. The EU had attempted to add a reference to the Holocaust at the last preparatory meeting (in January), which the U.S. did not attend. But Iran and Syria had objected. The EU proposal was therefore “bracketed” — entered into the items-in-dispute category. Both Syria and Iran had claimed there weren’t enough facts about the Holocaust to warrant a definitive denunciation. Iran had also complained that the proposal was in the wrong section.

So the EU tried again, and this time the American delegation was present. Here is how the discussion went:

European Union: We have a new proposal under the section on education and awareness-raising that would recall the U.N. General Assembly resolution on the remembrance of the Holocaust. It would read:

Urges states to raise awareness and to implement U.N. General Assembly resolutions 60/7 and 61/255 which inter alia observes that the remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide, condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust and urges all states to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full, or in part, or any activities to this end.

Iran: My delegation thinks that this is an inappropriate place to incorporate this new paragraph, so we request that this new paragraph be put in brackets.

Chair: Is there any delegation wishing to comment on this new proposal by the European Union? It doesn’t seem the case. We move on.

Since the operating principle is consensus, this put the Holocaust provision in dispute. But the American delegation chose not to go on the record strongly supporting the EU’s proposal, as it had on other items. Not a peep came from the “change the direction in which the Review Conference is heading” folks.

Here’s an even more troubling example, this time involving a paragraph the Palestinian delegation proposed Tuesday in the presence of the American representatives:

Palestine: I would like to propose a new paragraph which reads as follows:

Calls for an end of all actions violating international human rights and humanitarian law, the respect for the principle of self-determination and an end of all suffering. Calls also for implementation of international legal obligations, including the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall, and the international protection of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.

Chair: Now let’s move on to paragraph . . . Dead silence again, despite the fact that an objection could have made a real difference by putting the paragraph unequivocally in dispute. Everybody knew that there was no other country-specific provision in the 250-paragraph-plus document. Yet there were no comments objecting to the idea of singling out Israel in an anti-racism manifesto, and no call for a paragraph decrying racism in any other state.

Instead, the Palestinian and EU delegations have confirmed that in a backroom deal, the EU agreed ahead of time not to object. Members of the American delegation might not have known of the arrangement in advance (highly unlikely), but regardless, they got tongue-tied when it mattered.

The new paragraph is scheduled to appear in a section called “Identification of further concrete measures and initiatives at all levels for combating and eliminating all manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance . . .” with the subtitle “General provisions on victims and grounds of discrimination.”
Neither Ms. Gaer nor her fellow American delegates to the Durban II Review Conference offered ripostes or objections to what Ms. Bayefsky described.

It would appear that the American delegation went to Geneva without any end game. But that is not surprising; the Obama Administration has yet to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for
the Bureau of International Organization Affairs that might have provided ‘instructions.’ At present, the position is vacant and the Acting Deputy was a Bush appointee in 2006, James Warlick. Thus, the suspicion is that Madame Secretary Clinton and the Obama National Security Council sent the delegation with minimal instructions on what to do. Is that unusual? At the start of the Bush 43 Presidency in 2001, a similar scramble went on to field a delegation to the original Durban I conference. The delegation was headed by an alleged secular American Pakistani Muslim woman. She was an expert on non-proliferation.
That begs the point of what the AJC and Ms. Gaer might have advised the Obama foreign policy ‘team’ to be a worthy ‘end game’ scenario. Everyone lauded former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2001 for
pulling the US delegation at the Durban I conference, once it became apparent what the objectives were. Powell’s statement called attention to the “Zionism equal  Racism” UN General  Assembly resolution 3379 adopted in November, 1975 , and finally revoked in December, 1991, that remained at the core of the Durban I agenda:

I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the interna­tional fight against racism and the contribu­tion that the Conference could have made to it. But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that pro­duce declarations containing hateful lan­guage, some of which is a throwback to the days of “Zionism equals racism;” or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world—Israel—for censure and abuse.

Powell’s pulling the US delegation was the result of a carefully orchestrated event by the late Yasser Arafat, head of Fatah, to demonize Israel as racist, an occupier engaged in apartheid against Palestinians. In effect, Arafat never gave up on the “Zionism is racism” UN resolution. He and the Fatah leadership used the Durban I conference to push that issue. Arafat, as we have learned recently, was engaged in pursuing a Second Intifada against Israel arising ostensibly from the September 2000 Temple Mount riots tied to Israeli PM Sharon’s visit. As Jonathan Schanzer in his recent book,
“Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine” stated Arafat was trying to out maneuver the rising popularity of Islamic terrorist group Hamas. Durban I was a ripe opportunity to further that objective of the Fatah with the cooperation of other Muslim countries in the OIC and extremist regimes like Cuba.
What Ms. Gaer and the American delegation at the Durban II Review Conference should have done was issue a statement that they would recommend to Secretary Clinton and President Obama, that the US not attend the April sessions and our government pull funding support of the conference. They didn’t do that, at least not at this time.

That suggested action should have been coupled with vigorous diplomacy directed at convincing a number of the more than 85 countries in November, 2008, who
voted for the OIC sponsored UN anti-blasphemy resolutions under the guise of “Combating Defamation of Religions.” These countries should be urged to pull out of the Durban II conference and withdraw their funding as well. Particularly troubling in this regard is the position of the Phillipines, where the US has provided extensive counter insurgency support to fight the Islamic terrorist group and al Qaeda affiliate, Abu Sayyaf.
The AJC did not cover itself with glory at the Durban II Review Conference. By remaining silent they shamefully abetted the objectives of the organizers of Durban II: the demonizing and isolation of the Jewish State of Israel and the muzzling of free speech by member countries of the OIC. This was not the AJC’s nor this country’s finest hour in the exercise of ‘smart power’ diplomacy.

The finale of this story came on February 27th, when the Obama Administration announced that it was pulling out of the Durban II Review Conference. A
JTA report on the pullout noted the rationale, too anti-Semitic, and who was involved from the White House National Security Council and  State Department:

The Obama administration has decided to boycott the so-called Durban II conference out of concerns for anti-Semitism.

Multiple sources on a conference call with the White House on Friday told JTA that the Obama administration had opted not to attend any further preparatory meetings ahead of the planned U.N. conference against racism in Geneva in April.

The State Department sent a delegation, including a senior staffer from the American Jewish Committee, to this month’s preparatory talks. The delegation’s conclusions were that the anti-Israel and anti-Western tendencies were too deeply entrenched to excise.

Now that the United States is withdrawing from the conference, European nations are expected to follow.

Speaking for the White House on Friday’s call were Samantha Power and James Warlick, who handle international organizations for, respectively, the National Security Council and the State Department; and Jennifer Simon, an adviser to Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

The AJC, which seems to have lobbied for inclusion of Felice Gaer (this is vehemently denied by the Executive Director of the AJC, David Harris), will doubtless claim bragging rights for this decision of the Obama White House. Harris of the AJC will argue that this is a victory for engagement. The reality, however, is that neither Gaer nor any members of the private American delegation who went to the Durban II preliminary planning session in Geneva voiced objections. One glaring example is the belated Palestinian proposal that Israel be subject to criminal prosecution before the International Court of Justice in the Hague for building the security barrier that protects its citizens from suicide terrorist attacks. Not stated in this JTA report is whether the Obama Administration is also pulling out its share of funding for Durban II. 

What is clear from this first test of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is that ‘engagement’ with extreme elements in the Organization of the Islamic Conference does not work. This episode should result in drawing redlines on encroaching Islamization in the West. Islamization that is manifest in intimidation of free speech and criminal prosecution for criticism of a religion, Islam. It is doubtful that this will be on the agenda of Samantha Powers on the White House NSC staff.   

The AJC should learn from this brief dalliance in diplomatic outreach that engagement doesn’t work with Islamic anti-Semites. 

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