Israel boycotts UN racism conference

By Terry Keleher Nov 20, 2008

Here we go again. Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced yesterday that Israel will boycott the United Nation’s conference on racism scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland next April. She charged that the conference would be biased against Israel and would pose a threat to the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Recall that Israel, joined by the U.S, walked out midway through the 2001 Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. They opposed a draft resolution that criticized Israel and compared Zionism to racism. The resolution was never approved. Livni claims, "The documents prepared for the (upcoming) conference indicate that it is turning once again into an anti-Israeli tribunal, singling out and delegitimizing the state of Israel, which has nothing to do with fighting racism." Say what? Contrary to Foreign Minister Livni’s pronouncement, Israel’s legitimacy has everything to do with whether it fights for racial equity and human rights. Perhaps Israel needs to be reminded that the scope of the 2009 conference, like the one in 2001, is the “Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” including “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” In the face of its ongoing inhumane treatment of Palestinians, quibbling over the meaning of racism and claiming some kind of exceptionalism seems quite disingenuous. The video above, documenting the early morning hours-long wait by hundreds of Palestinians who must pass though militarized checkpoints just to get to work in Israel, reminds me of the daily human rights abuses that people face. And it reminds me why the U.N. appropriately has an expansive definition of racism. Though the U.S. shares Israel’s narrow definition of racism, it would be wise to participate in next year’s conference and to avoid exceptionalizing itself from the global community’s interest in eliminating all forms of racial discrimination.