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Attempt to Discredit UN Anti-Racism Conference

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A
featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 6, 2009

Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions

Disinformation Campaign Attempts to Discredit UN Anti-Racism Conference

Interview with Cecile Surasky,
communications director with Jewish Voice for Peace,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus

A United Nations conference on racism in Geneva was convened in late April to review progress since the original U.N. sponsored-Conference on Racism and other forms of discrimination was held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. The U.S. and a handful of other nations boycotted this year's conference, claiming that its agenda was to bash Israel. That decision was based on the 2001 conference document, in which the Israel/Palestine conflict was the only international dispute mentioned by name, even though it was framed in an impartial way. At the earlier conference, a number of Arab nations had attempted to define Zionism as racism.

A controversial speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad given at this year's anti-racism gathering, was widely interpreted as anti-Semitic, playing right into the hands of those who charged that the conference had an anti-Israel bias. Despite the boycott and international press attention on Ahmadinejad's speech, conference delegates adopted a resolution against racism, which covered issues such as xenophobia and intolerance.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Cecilie Surasky, communications director with the American organization Jewish Voice for Peace, who attended the Geneva conference. She said that even though Israel and others boycotted the conference, its many supporters were there in force. And Surasky noted that many either ignored legitimate Palestinian claims of discrimination or demonized the United Nations, Muslims and Palestinians.

CECILIE SURASKY: The thing I found extremely problematic about their strategy, among other things, was their idea of defending Israel was to change the subject. If you went to these panels that various Israel lobby organizations put on, all of them were sort of Orwellianly-titled, “Fighting Anti-Semitism” and “Fighting Bigotry.” But when you go to them – and I did go to them and I did report on it – they were all bashing the U.N., bashing Muslims, bashing Palestinians. I heard some quite extraordinary language of demonization. The other thing is that in an effort to turn the proceedings into a circus in the eyes of the global media, they had no concern about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, for most of the delegates there who have been working for years on very real, very difficult substances issues of discrimination – of human trafficking, of rape of women, of genocide, racism, slavery – all of these very serious issues For most of them, Ahmadinejad’s speech was a sideshow. Most of the (non-governmental organizations) couldn’t even be in the room to hear him. And they were there to do very serious work. The Durban Review Conference is about creating a new international set of tools to help them press for reparations, to help them bring more justice in their countries, but the Israel lobby’s strategy was simply to delegitimize everything, and that meant delegitimizing all the work of these NGOs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: All the criticism I heard about the 2001 Durban conference was that it was one-sided, it was anti-Semitic, it was Israel-bashing. But I read the relevant parts of the closing document, and I was amazed by what was there, and what wasn’t there…

CECILIE SURASKY: When the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, closes the Durban Review Conference by talking about a “widespread and highly organized campaign of disinformation,” she was talking about attacks on the 2001 statement, attacks that said it was anti-Semitic. And what she said was it was clear that they had not bothered to read what it actually said. And it fact if you look at it, there are 61 pages; only six paragraphs that pertain to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or to Jews. Those paragraphs include things like, ‘We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten;’ ‘We recognize with deep concern an increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.’ It includes numerous affirmations of peace, co-existence, equality and justice for both peoples. It is so remarkably mild. It is true it is the only conflict that’s referenced in that document, but when you look at the actual text, it is remarkably mild, and in fact affirms the Israeli right to security, much as it affirms the Palestinian right to self-determination. I highly recommend people read it, and in fact, at the time, Israel’s foreign minister, Shimon Peres, called it "an accomplishment of the first order for Israel." So you can see there’s been a remarkable rewriting of history.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Cecilie Surasky, what came out of this session? Was there another document that came out of the follow-up conference in Geneva? Did it include any reference to Israel and Palestine?

CECILIE SURASKY: I can tell you that the final outcome document for the Durban review made absolutely no mention whatsoever of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only thing it did do was affirm the first document that I just referred to, and simply for that act has been condemned also as anti-Semitic. You hear people, a number of these groups…Alan Dershowitz and others, calling what happened at the Durban Review Conference ‘a hate fest.’ There’s literally no end to the hyperbole and the demonization going on that has absolutely no relationship to reality. The document is very positive and it talks about the need to fight against racism, fight against bigotry. It’s really grounded in bedrock values that I think all caring people can support. So there’s really no relationship between these highly inflammatory attacks that we’re hearing and what actually happened.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, then, looking at the flip side – especially in light of Israel’s recent attack on Gaza – were Palestinians or others who support Palestinian rights upset that nothing was said?

CECILIE SURASKY: There was so much pressure on everyone. There were tremendous efforts to keep the U.S. in and other countries – I believe now it’s nine other countries that left, and boycott[ed]. There was so much pressure that the Palestinian diplomatic delegation gave in on virtually any demands they may have had. Even the Palestinian NGOs – the non-governmental organizations – were essentially marginalized at the proceedings. They were not given any space whatsoever, to present, as is typical for most NGOs. And they were given a bureaucratic excuse, but it was said orally, clearly, ‘Look, the Palestinian diplomats have given up on their agenda, so the least you can do is also give up so that we can have a chance of keeping the Americans.’ So, if you talk to the people who ran the conference, Navanethem Pillay and others, they gave in to every single concession that was asked of them – every single one, to a T – and still the U.S. boycott[ed], which leads one to ask the question, what was really going on there. If you talk to members of the American delegation – people of African descent who were pushing for reparations for slavery – they will say that was the real agenda, that the issue of Israel and anti-Semitism was used as a smoke screen, that most of these countries are very concerned about any progress people might make in pressing for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Scholars and analysts and historians will be able to parse out what really went on there. I’m not sure we’ll know any time soon.

Contact Jewish Voice for Peace at (510) 465-1777 or visit their website at


Melinda Tuhus is producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending May 8, 2009. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

Between The Lines Radio Newsmagazine
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