The United Nations' World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in South Africa this summer under the auspices of the UN Commission on Human Rights, has already assumed a nasty hue of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Delegates at a recent UN-sponsored "Asian regional preparatory meeting" in Tehran singled out Israel as the world's most egregiously racist state. However, when asked about the inflammatory rhetoric contained in the Tehran Declaration, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, praised the meeting's "emphasis on dialogue between civilizations."
The Declaration describes Israel's policy toward the Palestinians as "a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide." Then there is the discussion of Israel's "racially based law of return" and the inevitable call for "an international endeavour to bring [the] foreign occupation [of Jerusalem], together with all its racial practices to an end."
The Declaration was a fix. Banned from membership in the Asian regional grouping of which it is geographically part, Israeli representatives could not apply for visas to the Islamic republic (which, speaking of "related intolerance," does not recognize Israel's right to exist). Eligible NGOs -- including one representing the Baha'i, a religion persecuted in Iran -- were denied permission to enter the country. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Center was given a visa only only on the day the conference started, thereby effectively excluding it from attending.
The Declaration's accusations are baseless. Sensible observers would be hard-pressed to believe that Israel's willingness to hand the Palestinians their own, independent state and the nation's decades-long quest for peace conceal evidence of a crime against humanity" or a desire to commit "genocide." In fact, it is the Palestinian Authority itself that brought about the Israeli crackdown in the West Bank, which has led to the "genocidal" deaths of several hundred Palestinians. Only last week, the PA's Communications Minister, Imad Al-Faluji, confirmed "this Intifada was planned [by Palestinian Authority officials] in advance, ever since President [Yassir] Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations."
As for "a new kind of apartheid," Israeli Muslims, Christians, Baha'is, Druse, Circassians and other ethnic groups enjoy exactly the same civil and political rights as Jews. They can sit in the Knesset, say what they like, go where they like, pray where they like, go into business, be elected to office and serve in the Cabinet. In light of the absurd spectacle of a group of Middle Eastern theocracies and dictatorships pronouncing judgment on issues relating to "discrimination," it would be an interesting exercise to catalogue which among them treat their minorities in the same tolerant way as Israel. None does.
As for Israel's "racially based law of return," this policy has nothing to do with race and is based solely on religious affiliation. (If it is racist, why did Israel airlift 42,000 Ethiopian Jews between 1984 and 1991, which must mark the only time in history blacks have been systematically moved to another country in freedom rather than in chains.) Indeed, those countries in Tehran that condemned Israel are hardly blameless. Arab states typically define citizenship according to native parentage, making it virtually impossible for many immigrants to become naturalized citizens. And even those Arab nations that do allow naturalization for foreigners explicitly exclude Palestinians. While Jordan introduced its own law of return in 1954 for all former residents of Palestine, it banned Jews. Lastly, concerning the "foreign occupation [of Jerusalem], together with all its racial practices," what racial practices?
Palestinians and Jews can argue about who should control Jerusalem, but it is part of Israel's Basic Law that places of worship be open to all. Muslims can pray at the Dome of the Rock, just as Christians can kneel in the Holy Sepulchre without hindrance. When, before 1967, the Jordanians controlled the Old City and East Jerusalem, they ravaged nearly every synagogue and tore up the Jewish gravestones from the Mount of Olives to pave the way to army latrines. Last year's destruction of Joseph's Tomb by Palestinian rioters, and the evident pleasure some derived from stamping on Jewish scrolls, is another case in point.
On a larger scale, the Tehran Declaration is another shameful episode in the UN's dire and discriminatory treatment of Israel. There is no difference between these new charges created in Tehran and the infamous UN Resolution 3379 of Nov. 10, 1975, which determined "that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination."
Revealingly, then as now, the world's most repressive, discriminatory and racist regimes came together to slander their enemy behind a veil of multi-lateral UN legitimacy. When, thanks to the efforts of former president George Bush, Resolution 3379 was rescinded in 1991, the only states voting against were the Arab and Muslim nations, as well as such bastions of liberty and justice as Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. The UN Human Rights Commission remains little other than a blunt instrument to bash Israel. In 1999 alone, the commission -- whose membership includes such national human rights luminaries as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Liberia -- passed five resolutions condemning Israel. This summer, in South Africa, their voices will be prominent among those lecturing Israel and other democracies about racism and intolerance. Our government and other Western governments should decide honestly whether a conference with such an absurd premise and already manifesting such bigotry is worth attending. This newspaper argues no.
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