The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) deplores the hijacking of the UN World Conference Against Racism (UNWCAR) process for political purposes by a vocal minority, despite vigorous and welcome U.S. efforts to prevent it. We note with dismay the failure of the UNWCAR to keep these forces from undermining and obscuring critical issues in the struggle to eradicate racism.
The U.N. Conference convened in Durban, South Africa last summer had laudable goals, including: to review progress made against racial discrimination, appraise obstacles to further progress, and devise strategies for building effective mechanisms to combat racial and other forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, although the conference ultimately addressed several key issues in its final document, the agenda was dominated by Arab-led efforts to revive the discredited “Zionism is racism” canard, to criminalize and delegitimize Israel, to undercut its moral and legal foundation, and to withdraw international support for its existence, and by expressions of overt anti-Semitism. This obscured other pressing and important matters of race and impeded the development of strategies to end the scourge of racism. Instead, the conference itself became a forum for hatred. These divisive and offensive efforts undermined the mission of the conference, compromised important work, and diverted attention from key conference objectives.
Among the positive statements to emerge in The Declaration and Programme of Action finally adopted in Durban were expressions of solidarity with those continuing to struggle against racism, acknowledgement that slavery and the slave trade were “appalling tragedies in the history of humanity,” and recognition that those who were victims of these acts continue to be victims of their consequences. The JCPA recognizes the importance of the need to acknowledge and address the barbarity of the transatlantic slave trade. We continue to abhor current day slavery and inhumane treatment wherever it occurs.
At a Durban press conference, some of our civil rights coalition partners spoke out against the “fervently rhetorical attacks” on Israel. They came to Durban to fight racism. We join with them in that ongoing fight. Their statements were especially meaningful in light of the fact that so many other organizations, which have fought for decades to establish and apply fair and just human rights standards, blindly signed onto bitter unfair and one-sided condemnations of Israel and turned a blind eye to the anti-Semitic context of these resolutions.
Although the most virulent anti-Israel language did not make it into the final text of the governmental document, the NGO conference produced an anti-Jewish, anti-Israel document which cynically invokes human rights terminology and mechanisms as a means to criminalize Israel and the Jewish right to self determination.
While we continue to hold accountable purveyors of hatred who hijacked the Durban conference and human rights organizations that tolerated or abetted these efforts, we must not allow them to derail our ongoing active engagement in the anti-racism movement. The sense of abandonment felt by Jews throughout the Durban process invigorates our commitment to our coalitions, which embrace mutual respect and are a credit to the humanity of those united in the fight against intolerance of all kinds. While acknowledging the need to address issues of race worldwide, we pledge to do our part at home to continue longstanding commitments to secure the civil rights of all people and ensure that none are denied full access to the promise of America, while continuing to hold accountable those who direct racism and hatred at our own community.
The JCPA reaffirms its longstanding commitment to racial justice and equal opportunity and renews its commitment to pursue the action recommendations that emerged from its study, Building One Nation: Race, Ethnicity and Public Policy, published in February 2000. These include support for strong anti-poverty programs and properly structured affirmative action policies, attention to issues of criminal justice as defined in the study, and concerted focus on improving the quality of public education, especially in high poverty areas. In addition, the JCPA will promote work with local coalitions nationwide involving those directly affected by racism.
Further, we pledge to examine, with our national and local member agencies and with our coalition partners, the nature of the African American community’s concern for national and international responses to the lingering effects of slavery and to determine how the Jewish community should respond. At the same time, we commit to working with partners to ensure that the anti-racism movement, including any post-Durban follow-up, is not further misused to advance an agenda that targets Israel and promotes anti-Semitism. We are committed to increase our efforts, working with our coalition partners at the national and local levels, in the task of defeating racism in this country and around the globe.