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A City Named Durban

Thursday 24 April 2008, by Michel Warshavski

There are cities about which the mere mention of their name causes horror, for example Nuremburg in Germany, whose name is automatically connected with the discriminatory laws of the Nazi regime. To a much lesser extent, the city of Durban also belongs to this group: the very raising of the name of this South African city rouses the Israeli establishment and media. Since the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, Durban has become identified with anti-Israeli sentiment, and even anti-Semitism. Indeed, this past week the Israeli and American governments decided to boycott the second Durban conference against racism that is scheduled to be held in early 2009.

There is no doubt that the first Durban conference was an anti-Israeli platform: these were the days of murderous oppression in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), in which every day young Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers, and the international media was full of horrific acts against a helpless civilian population. Together with the United States, Israel was accused of war crimes and for violating the UN General Assembly Resolution against Racism and the International Convention against Apartheid; moreover, South Africans know very well to identify a regime built on racial, ethnic or national discrimination, even if use of the concept of apartheid in the Israeli-Palestinian context is partial, there exist more than a few points of comparison between the former apartheid regime and current Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people in the OPT and within Israel.

Indeed, the Durban Conference was not infected by anti-Semitism, and this accusation was a planned part of a cynical counter-attack by Israel and its allies throughout the world, in order to avoid providing a response to the serious accusations of racism. The head of the Jewish community in France at the time, Roger Cukierman, announced in an interview to the Israeli press that to confront the serious international criticism in light of the destruction and murder in the OPT (what was later dubbed “Operation Defensive Shield”), there existed a need to shift the debate, to move the accusation to the other side: what is easier than the accusation of anti-Semitism, half a century after the genocide of European Jewry by the Nazis?

In order to ground the accusation of anti-Semitism in a situation where no factual basis for such a charge existed, the advocates for Israel had to invent a new trick of rhetoric, dubbed semantic slippage: if, for example, someone says that the Israeli military is committing war crimes in Jenin—a legitimate contention—then the argument against this accusation is that what the accuser actually intended to say is that the Jews are a cruel people and the Nazis were correct in their policy of genocide against them.

In this sense, the Durban Conference was portrayed in the propaganda of the supporters of Israel’s policies, as a type of Nuremberg number two, where all its enemies planned a second Shoah against the Jewish people. In the context of the Durban Conference, the relatively new concept of “the new anti-Semitism” was created, an anti-Semitism of the Left which is portrayed as several times more dangerous than the anti-Semitism of the Right and the neo-Nazis, the forefathers of whom, lest we forget, were responsible for the slaughter of six million Jews less than 70 years ago.

The boycott of the international conference against racism by Israel and the United States is an admission, a testimony to their inability to respond to the numerous contentions of violating international conventions concerning race and apartheid. However, this boycott also contains something more serious: a state which claims to speak for the remainder of a people who suffered throughout history, more than any other people, from racism and xenophobia, and decides to boycott a UN convention against racism, is essentially spitting in the grave of the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide, and loses all legitimacy to speak in their name.

If the Israeli establishment has decided to be absent from the upcoming World Conference against Racism, then the organizations fighting against racism in all its forms in Israel, must be in Durban, at the NGO gathering to be held in parallel to the state conference, and to say loudly and clearly: the struggle against racism is one, and our opposition to any form of discrimination begins here at home. This is just and only thus do we possess a moral justification to fight against anti-Semitism.

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