Behind the Headlines a Pyrrhic Victory for the Arabs
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Behind the Headlines a Pyrrhic Victory for the Arabs

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When the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination ended here last Saturday, the Arab, Communist and Third World delegations prided themselves on having won a victory in once again ramming through a document condemning Israel. But the end result of the conference for this “automatic majority” was a Pyrrhic victory. The African delegates who had been pressured into yielding to Arab demands that they support the anti-Israel declaration now feel bitter toward the Arabs.

The feeling in the cold light of post-conference reality was that Africa’s fight against apartheid had been weakened by the shift the conference had taken under Arab pressure away from the fight against racism to that of condemning Israel. In addition, the Arabs were also struck a severe blow by the walkout of the nine European Economic Community (EEC) delegations and Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Norway. It was the first time in the history of a United Nations sponsored conference that the entire EEC delegation voted with its feet.

The West German delegate, who was spokesman for the EEC delegation, declared that the group could not accept a resolution which deviated from the expressed purpose of the conference, namely, to combat racism. The British delegate said that criticism of Israeli policies regarding its treatment of the Arabs in the occupied territories might be a topic for discussion under other circumstances, but certainly not when discussing racism.

The walkout of the EEC nine, also reflected the undercurrent of dissatisfaction on the part of many of the Asians and Latin American delegations that the issue of combatting racism was lost in the shuffle of Arab, Communist, and Third World maneuverings.


Contrary to the usual spectacle Following an Arab victory at a UN forum, Arabs and Africans did not embrace. The Africans, instead, walked out very quietly from the final session. Daoud Barakat, the Palestine Liberation Organization delegate, tried to find a face-saving formula, noting that despite all it was a victory for the Arabs because the anti-Israel resolution received more votes at this conference than did the 1975 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism.

The 1975 resolution received a vote of 72-35 with 32 abstentions. The declaration here was adopted by a vote of 88-4 with 2 abstentions. But in 1975 there was no walkout by the EEC delegations and the Arabs and Africans did “embrace” each other. In addition, as hard as the Arabs tried this time to inject a Zionism equals racism formula into the final declaration, there was no reference to that or the 1975 resolution.


Indeed, although Israel did not participate in this conference–nor did the United States or South Africa–it scored several positive points. The basic victory was that the Western bloc proved it would not accept any resolution which would cast doubt on Israel’s integrity and would not accept any resolution labeling Israel as a racist state. The massive anti-Israeli barrage, in the form of speeches, maneuverings and behind-the-scenes pressures launched like rocket fire by the Arab-Communist-Third World bloc, failed to dent the resolve of the West not to be a party to this charade.

The U.S., too, by boycotting the conference, played a principled role by warning in advance, as did Israel, that the conference would be derailed from its stated task of combatting racism by the engineers of virulent anti-Israel ideologies. Both countries denounced the anti-Israel declaration. Even Rumania hedged during the last sessions by absenting itself as the winds began to change against the Arab moves.

The conference was condemned in various quarters, apart from the U.S., Israel and Jewish organizations. A Swiss radio correspondent said it was “an unfortunate conference, a complete failure and showed we are very far from defense of human rights.” A Canadian correspondent wrote, “The conference on racism proved it was itself racist.” The biggest disappointment of the conference were the Latin American delegations which, despite their unease and unhappiness with the final declaration, voted for it, although Mexico did voice some reservations.

But, despite the Arabs’ self-proclaimed victory, the conference proved that the victory will boomerang. The rift between the Arabs and the Africans is now a fact. The Africans will not pardon the Arabs for their role in derailing the conference. The West consolidated its ranks or, in a sense, culminated a process of resistance to Arab pressure. The first sign of Western resistance became apparent during the International Labor Organization conference in June where, for the first time since 1973, no anti-Israel resolution was adopted. At that conference the Saudi Arabian delegate warned the Arabs that the “wind might blow against them.”

During the current two-week conference, 130 states participated. It was supposed to be the least expensive conference sponsored by the UN, at a cost of only $32,000. As it turned out, it proved to be the most expensive conference–politically, for the Arabs.

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