DURBAN, South Africa (Sep. 4)
It may have been muted, but there was a trickle of support for Israel to be found at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban.
After the Jewish caucus stormed out of the Saturday meeting that formally labelled Israel racist and apartheid, a Nigerian delegate was seen approaching a Jewish activist to offer her words of encouragement.
“I study history, and I know that was the Jewish homeland,” Annie Davies, executive director of the Lagos-based Development Information Network, told JTA.
“The world has a tendency to take sides with the weaker party, but it’s not like the Palestinians were sitting in the corner, minding their own business,” said Davies, who added she had refused to sign a petition of support for the Palestinians. “They’re taunting and provoking Israel, and looking for trouble.”
Unfortunately, such voices remained quiet.
The only Holocaust survivor in Congress and a co-founder of its human rights caucus, Lantos said several delegates had expressed their disgust with the proceedings.
However, “many don’t have the guts or backbone to say publicly what they’re saying to me privately,” Lantos said. “I’m not naming names, but it would be a long list, including many Europeans. They say there’s a price to be paid for telling it like it is, and they’re afraid to pay it.”
Lord Janner, a member of the British Parliament and head of the World Jewish Congress delegation, also had harsh criticism.
“This is the nastiest and most chaotic conference I’ve experienced in my long life of public service; it is disgraceful, and a slur against the Jewish people,” Janner told JTA.
With media reports from here overwhelmingly focused on Israel at the expense of scores of worthy causes, many NGO folks are grumbling that the Arab world is going too far.
Publicly, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a multicultural coalition of American groups, called for “civility.”
“We operate from the position that no country deserves to be singled out for particular criticism in contrast with all others,” LCCR Executive Director Wade Henderson told JTA. “At the same time, no country should be exempt from full review of its civil and human rights policy. That applies not only to Israel, but with equal force to all the countries of the Middle East.”
Some media also have tried to get past the rhetoric.
A German journalist, Thomas Knemeyer of Die Welt newspaper, pointed to a Jewish caucus new conference last week that was cut short when Arab activists disrupted it.
“Six million dead and you’re holding the world hostage!” one Iranian woman reportedly yelled.
“That’s when the bullshit ends, the camouflage is lifted,” Knemeyer said. “That’s when you see it’s not about Israel, but about the Jews.”
In general, the media have compounded the problem.
They report on the preoccupation with the Middle East at face value, rarely probing into whether the daily incidents during the NGO conference were spontaneous or part of a coordinated strategy.
When a Jewish student delegation singing “Give Peace a Chance” and handing out flowers was confronted by an Arab group chanting slogans and sparring verbally, several Western media outlets termed the incident a “war of words” — with no trace of irony.
Photographers and journalists also flocked to a pair of Jewish curiosities here: the anti-Zionist Israeli author Uri Davis, who is here peddling copies of his book, “Israel: An Apartheid State,” and a trio of rabbis from the Neturei Karta, an anti-Zionist fringe sect.