Prepping in Geneva for U.N. “anti-racism” conference


Noel Hidalgo/Creative Commons

JTA correspondent Michael J. Jordan visits with the diplomats in Geneva preparing for the 2009 World Conference Against Racism as they seek to widen the definition of anti-Semitism to include Islamophobia – Arabs are Semites, after all – and talk of the importance of focusing on “state racism.” Guess which state?

Parsing U.N. diplo-speak

Parsing United Nations diplo-speak requires an attuned ear and a capacity to read between the lines. On Thursday in Geneva, at a preparatory conference for the 2009 World Conference Against Racism, the Syrian ambassador drew a line between “individual racism” and “state racism.” State racism? Do you mean – maybe – Israel? Crusaders against racism must study where those with a “cultural superiority complex” deny the “right of millions to self-determination,” he said. “Thank you to the distinguished delegate,” the Libyan chairwoman said.

Depends on how you define “anti-Semitism”

Just when you thought you knew all about anti-Semitism – turns out it means Arabs too, at least according to Algeria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

When the Algerian diplomat, Idriss Jazairy, argues that anti-Semitism’s definition should be expanded to include Arabs, who are a Semitic people, the director of the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust at Touro College, Anne Bayefsky, shot back. The greatest source of anti-Semitism today operates “under the guise of anti-Zionism and anti-racism activities,” epitomized by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s disproportionate focus on criticizing Israel, she said.

When Bayefsky spoke, Jazairy immediately raised his hands to form a T – as in “time-out” – and the forum’s chairwoman, Libyan Najat Al-Hajjaji, began tapping her gavel, cutting off Bayefsky to permit Jazairy to respond. Bayefsky was allowed to resume, but was interrupted twice more by Al-Hajjaji’s gavel and Jazairy’s interjections.

The 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic States are “feigning an interest in anti-Semitism only to pervert and emasculate the meaning, which is why they have no problem condemning it,” Bayefsky said after the session.

Some observers were confused by the entire exchange. A watchdog for India’s “untouchables” caste, the Dalits, shyly conceded his ignorance of the matter to JTA: “It’s somebody against something, yes?”

Arafat on Display

Lining the tungsten-lit hallway in the basement of the U.N. complex in Geneva, a 10-panel exhibit on the Palestinians gets plenty of foot traffic because it’s next to the main cafeteria here. The exhibit contains four photos of Yasser Arafat, including a wide-angle shot of the standing ovation Arafat famously received from the U.N. General Assembly in November 1974. This week, a U.N. staffer and U.N. security guard – both Africans – were reading the French-language exhibit. Asked why he thought it was the only permanent exhibit in the building, the staffer replied, “Because it’s the oldest conflict.” As for Arafat, I ventured, some might view him as a terrorist. “You Europeans,” the security guard snapped at me, an American journalist. “You’re responsible for all that’s happened there.”

Click here to tune into the Durban Review Conference Preparatory Committee’s live webcast, Friday, April 25, 2008, 10:00-18:00 CEST.

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