NEW YORK (JTA) — At rallies, a counter-conference and “dialogue tents,” opponents of the Durban III conference portrayed the U.N. proceedings as hypocritical and deeply flawed.
The Hudson Institute and Touro College hosted a counter-conference titled “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III” at a hotel near the United Nations building in New York. The Zionist organization StandWithUs held a circus-themed rally that drew about 200 protesters to stress that the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations makes a mockery of democracy.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Israeli Consulate in New York held several “open dialogue tents” for New Yorkers to talk about the issues riveting the United Nations. Israel’s minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, Yuli Edelstein, spoke in one of the tents.
Also near the United Nations, thousands of Iranian-American pro-democracy campaigners protested the Iranian government. Along with prominent speakers, the Jewish-backed group Iran180 held a mock wedding between effigies of Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad; they were married under a chuppah.
Speakers at the counter-conference included Ron Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress; former U.N. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton; Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; former New York City Mayor Ed Koch; and the current and former Israeli ambassadors.
Many of the speakers offered an insider’s look at what transpired at the original Durban conference, in South Africa in 2001. Wiesel recalled his resignation from the Durban committee and described the United Nations as a “great idea that has been perverted.”
“It has become a forum far from the aspirations of its founders,” he said.
The speakers seemed divided on the continued significance of the Durban process. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, described it as a continued danger, but Koch and others argued that its time has passed.
“Durban III has been a flop,” Koch said. “There is no media. People on the street aren’t interested. They have failed in their efforts and their PR strategy.”
Koch called President Obama’s speech Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly extraordinary.
“I think he got the message,” the former Democratic mayor said, referring to his attempt to “send a message” to the White House by supporting the Republican candidate in the recent special congressional election in New York to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner.
Representatives of Iran, Cuba and Lebanon blasted Israel at the Durban Review Conference on Thursday.
While some speakers in the morning session made reference to what Iran’s representative called “the stonewalling behavior” of a few nations — the more than a dozen countries that are boycotting Durban III out of concern for anti-Israel bias — most speakers used the session as an opportunity to herald the progress of their own countries in combating racism. That included, for example, the representative from Zimbabwe, who called his nation “a tolerant and peace-loving country.”
In his own remarks at the session, Amnesty International’s representative, Jose Luis Diaz, accused many participating countries of being in a “state of denial” about human rights abuses and racism in their countries, saying nations were using the conference to “score political points.”