Flashback to a conference against racism that was hijacked to incite racism

‘Jerusalema’ dance from video produced by His Church Durban last week as part of a global Celebrate Israel Marathon (PHOTO: video screenshot)

In less than two weeks the United Nations will be hosting an event in New York to mark the 20th anniversary of the Durban World Conference Against Racism. So far, 13 nations have said they will not attend the so-called Durban 4 conference because of its antisemitic agenda. Vivienne Myburgh sheds light on the disingenuous hate fest in Durban that was a defining moment in the ideological war against Israel. She also reports on an online initiative held last week to redeem South Africa from the disgrace of what took place in Durban in 2001

The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held in Durban from August 31 to Sep 8 2001. 

The very conference which was intended to counter racism and foster tolerance quickly turned into a hate fest against Israel and against Jews. 

It also became apparent that before the event a plan was put in place to hijack the conferences using a number of pro-Palestinian NGOs to spearhead an agenda to reawaken the narrative that Zionism equates to racism which had been set back after a 1975 UN resolution to that effect was revoked in 1991. 

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The conference included a NGO forum and a governmental conference which met independently.

Members of the Jewish and Christian communities attended and were horrified at what they encountered. 

Protesters brandish anti-Israel signs outside the Durban Conference opening session on August 31 2001.(PHOTO: Reuters/Jerusalem Post)

Professor Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was at Durban 1 and commented on a recent Jewish Report webinar as follows: “This was to be the first human rights conference of the 21st Century and was to take place in Durban, South Africa, the birthplace of apartheid, where we would have commemorated the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. But what happened at Durban was truly Orwellian instead.

“A conference that was supposed to be against racism and discrimination turned into a conference of hatred and racism against Israel and the Jewish people. A conference that was supposed to be engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights singled out one state and one people, Israel and the Jewish people for selective indictment and indeed characterised Israel and the Jewish people as the enemy of all that is good and the embodiment of all that is evil. And a conference that was to celebrate the ending of SA apartheid began with the calling for the dismantling of Israeli ;apartheid’.”

He recalled that after landing back home on the eve of 9/11, one of his collegues commented to him “that if 9/11 was the Kristalnacht of terror, Durban was the Mein Kampf”. In a word, Durban, was the tipping point for the all new antisemitism.

Prof Irwin Cotler, lormer Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, left, reflects on his experience at Durban 1 during a recent Youtube interview (PHOTO: Youtube screenshot)

Felice Gaer, a director of the American Jewish Committee’s who was also at the Durban event in 2001 told the Jewish Report webinar that the secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan had called out Durban 1 as the low point in UN -Jewish relations. He had been the first secretary general to use the term Holocaust as the Soviet Union had prevented the term from being used in the UN. 

Gaer said: “The expectation had been that the [Durban] conference would address human rights issues across the world as it was after the Rwanda and Bosnia atrocities. It was, however, not to be, as it soon became apparent that the Durban conference had been hijacked by a political group promoting solidarity with the Palestinians. A number of articles had been written by different organisations saying as much. They then proceeded to promote division, disruption and distortion and after it was all over they went into denial. Denial that any of it had happened. Denial that it was antisemitic. It was clearly all deliberate and all planned.” 

Posters outside the conference venue in Durban openly stated: “Too bad Hitler had not finished the job” and copies of the fraudulent antisemitic publication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were distributed.

Four regional conferences were held in the run up to the Durban conference. The last of these was in Teheran, Iran and it was closed to Israel and Jewish NGOs. Israel was openly called a racist, criminal Nazi state at the Terheran event and the fact that there was no outrage cleared the way for those with an agenda to hijack the Durban conference.

Previous UN-hosted conferences against racism in 1978 and 1983 had largely focussed on SA and apartheid issues and the expectation was that at the Durban conference various states would release reports on their own human rights issues during the NGO forum. 

The forum was however totally hijacked by a number of largely SA NGOs and a document was compiled with a section from the Palestinian and Arab caucus accusing Israel of genocide and various hate crimes.

It was ironic, as Jewish delegates who had lobbied for policies against antisemitism, now experienced it first-hand at the very conference that was supposed to counter it.

Shocking antisemitism was on open display and no one stood up to it — exacerbating the trauma for Jewish delegates. Nations that were guilty of human rights abuses were left totally unscathed.

The USA had made it clear that they would not participate in the Durban conference if the “Zionism is racism” allegation was raised. They went on to boycott the conference, along with Israel and a number of other nations including Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland.

In the midst of the conference, as the horror story was unfolding, Solly Kessler, a past chair of the Zionist Council called Chris Eden from Bridges for Peace and asked him a question: “If you call yourselves our friends, now is the time, we need you to show us this friendship”.

A newspaper campaign was quickly configured, emphasising three main concepts around Israel which countered the narrative being promoted at the conference. Within hours R41 000 was raised from various Christian Zionist organisations with the major donors being Bridges for Peace, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Christian Action for Israel and Christian Friends of Israel.

The “adverts” went into all the major daily newspapers controlled at that stage by Independent Newspapers and The Star under the banner of the “The Alliance of Christian Zionist Organisations”. About 50 calls were logged, with some being very abusive, especially in response to the statement of Iranian oil being the lubricant that kept apartheid SA’s wheels turning. The Jewish community was very encouraged by the Christian support and expressed much gratitude towards the Alliance. The project was a big step forward in Christian/Jewish relations in SA.

2001 newspaper advertisement

Back to the conference: Mary Robbins, the secretary general of the conference, raised objections to the language used in the document compiled by the NGO forum and said she would not present it to the governmental conference. A steering committee was appointed to “fix” the text of the document and members were physically assaulted while trying to change the wording. [See the final Durban Declaration: https://www.un.org/WCAR/durban.pdf ]

The last speaker at the NGO forum was Fidal Castro and when Mary Robbins asked him about his own nation’s human rights issues she was booed by the audience.

Although the declaration that “Zionism is racism” was not formally adopted by the governmental conference and the need for countering antisemitism was mentioned in the declaration, the Durban 1 conference still led to Israel being labelled an apartheid state and the BDS (Boycott, disinvestment and sanctions) campaign was launched thereafter in an effort to dismantle the Jewish state.      

Immediate aftermath:

  • The Jews were blamed for 9/11 which took place immediately after the conference. 
  • A conference took place at the University of Michigan, launching the BDS movement with a resolution calling for the dismantling of Israel as a racist apartheid state.
  • The UN Commission for Human Rights met soon afterwards and the majority of resolutions singled out Israel, while the real human rights abuser nations got off scot-free.

Professor Irwin Cotler sums it up well when he states: “On a personal level Durban has been indelibly imprinted on my memory and on my being. Those of us who were at Durban were in one form or another transformed by that experience. The legacy of Durban is not only the legacy of hate, which would be bad enough. The legacy of Durban is that it became a tipping point for the laundering of antisemitism under the cover of human rights and anti-racism which we are still witnessing today.

“The laundering of antisemitism under the protective cover of the UN, under the authority of international law, under the culture of human rights, and under the very struggle against racism itself and I think that legacy is still with us.” 

The commemoration of the Durban 1 Conference is planned for September 22 at the UN headquarters in New York and has already been boycotted by 13 nations because of its antisemitic agenda. The countries staying away are Israel, the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, Hungary, Austria, Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France and Italy.

‘Redeeming’ SA

Tomas Sandell, the leader of the European Coalition for Israel, which mobilises Christians to oppose antisemitism, had a burden to see South Africa redeemed in terms of what transpired on our soil 20 years ago in Durban. He arranged a Global Celebrate Israel Marathon — an online event to counter the Durban narrative and bid Israel “shana tova” (happy new year). Six hours of video footage, including 15 minutes from Cape Town and Durban, was broadcast online from various nations across the world on Sunday September 5 on the eve of Rosh Hashana. 

A spectacular rendition of the Jerusalema dance from Durban and messages from African Christian Democratic Party MPs Rev Kenneth Meshoe and Steve Swart speaking outside Parliament in Cape Town were part of the SA contribution to the online marathon. The SA clip also includes an assurance from Christian leaders in Durban that from now on the name Durban will be associated with love and support for Israel.

Video from Durban
Video from Cape Town

The marathon issued a Geneva Declaration cherishing the presence of Jewish communities worldwide as well as the State of Israel. The Declaration quotes German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in stating that “Jews have been instrumental in writing and shaping our history and in illuminating our culture.”

The declaration was presented and read out in celebrations across all continents during the online marathon, thus contrasting the Durban Declaration from 2001 which had accused Israel of racism. 

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