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Bracing for Durban II
You have to wonder whether it's more than a coincidence that a U.N.-sponsored conference on racism -- widely expected to blame Israel for much of the world's ills -- is set to begin in Geneva on April 20, the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday.
Or that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and called for the elimination of Israel, will be a guest at the gathering, which also coincides with Yom Hashoah, when Israel and the Jewish world mark Holocaust memorial day.
Call it paranoia, but in this era of resurgent anti-Semitism, widespread efforts to boycott against Israel and Iranian-sponsored plots to blow up Israelis, it's hard not to fret over the connections.
The Geneva gathering is intended to be a follow-up to the first anti-racism conference held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. But instead of legitimately tackling the scourge of racism and human-rights abuses that plague the world, that parley devolved into an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate-fest. It relaunched a worldwide effort to portray Israel as an apartheid state through the use of international boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
Sponsors of the conference profess that they are "baffled" that the Obama administration appears to be sticking to its decision to abstain from the event. They insist that the pre-conference document was watered down in an effort to entice the United States and other hesitant nations to come to the gathering, thereby conferring upon it more legitimacy than it would have without them.
The point they are missing is that although the latest version of the document omits any overt attack on Israel, it still is unacceptable in that it reaffirms the Durban I document and, by extension, the anti-Israel rhetoric embedded in it.
The Obama administration should stick to its convictions and stay away from Geneva. The president was wrongly excoriated in some circles for sending a delegation last month to try to alter the course of the pre-conference document. While his effort was worthwhile, the administration must now realize that no matter how hard it tries, a conference chaired by Libya -- and co-chaired by Iran and Cuba -- cannot be serious about confronting the very real racism and human-rights abuses that exist around the world.
In contrast, several Jewish groups, including B'nai B'rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, are sending delegations to monitor and counteract the anti-Israel atmosphere that will inevitably surface in Geneva. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz will also be on hand to participate in Holocaust commemorations and pro-Israel rallies.
We wish them luck. But their attempts to engage -- and change -- minds likely will have little impact. Even as we remember the Holocaust, we also must remember that there are forces in the world who would rather look to Israel -- and often, to Jews as well -- as the scapegoat than to confront the problems in this world.