As part of a series marking 20 years since the infamous United Nations Conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, B’nai B’rith International CEO Dan Mariaschin discusses Israel, Zionism and anti-Semitism with celebrated French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy. Learn more about how B’nai B’rith International, which mobilized the largest multinational Jewish delegation at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, is highlighting that event’s notorious anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bigotry.
About Durban :
The World Conference against Racism – held by the United Nations in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 – perversely earned notoriety as the setting for shocking attacks against Israel and Jews.
The conference’s Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) singled out only Israel – the world’s sole Jewish state, the Middle East’s sole pluralistic democracy – for implied characterization as racist. The NGO Forum at Durban went even further, defaming Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” guilty of “genocide” and “alien domination” of Palestinians, and urging discrimination only against those positively engaging with it. Jewish participants in Durban were subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm. Rally signs and printed materials at Durban featured anti-Semitic symbols and canards, the glorification of Nazism and explicit incitement to terrorist violence against Israelis. Even U.N. officials were forced to decry the noxious anti-Semitism that overtook Durban.
Nonetheless, the U.N. held follow-up meetings reaffirming the DDPA – including the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2009, which was addressed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-denier who had openly called to wipe Israel “off the map.” The U.N. Human Rights Council continues to have a standing agenda item dedicated exclusively to the propagation of the DDPA. And on September 22, 2021, the U.N. General Assembly will commemorate Durban’s 20th anniversary with a high-level summit.
B’nai B’rith International – the world’s oldest and most widely known Jewish organization, which has led Jewish communal engagement with the U.N. since its creation and is distinguished by a membership globally – brought the largest Jewish delegations to the Durban conference and its follow-up meetings. B’nai B’rith ultimately walked out of Durban, as did the United States and Israel. B’nai B’rith also advocated for the world’s major democracies to boycott the Durban follow-up meetings, as many did, and organized high-level counter-programming in New York upon Durban’s 10th anniversary in 2011.
We are taking action again this year: raising our voices in key U.N. forums, in published op-eds and in online programs; meeting with ambassadors from around the globe to build awareness of Durban’s toxic legacy; and planning events to provide a truthful and just response to misguided celebrations of Durban. The critical fight against anti-Semitism – like the genuine and necessary fight against all forms of racism – demands nothing less. As with the successful struggle to rescind an infamous 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism, we are determined to ensure that bigotry never finds a platform in international institutions.