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Fact Sheets: "Durban III" Conference on Racism

(Updated September 2011)

On September 22, 2011, the United Nations will host a General Assembly meeting in New York City to mark the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action at the “World Conference Against Racism 2001” held in Durban, South Africa. The 2011 meeting, informally known as "Durban III," was officially mandated in 2009 by UNGA Resolution 64/148, yet has come under significant fire for its plans to commemorate the “odious hate-fest” that was Durban I.

The original conference in 2001 was supposed to highlight the victims of racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and injustice around the world, and to explore methods to eradicate such discrimination. Anticipating that the conference organizers planned to focus primarily on attacking Israel, the United States joined Israel in withdrawing its delegation form the event.  Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the time:

“I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world--Israel--for censure and abuse.”

As Powell predicted, the Durban I conference devolved into an Israel-bashing session where the charge of "Zionism = Racism" was repeatedly raised and false, hostile allegations were leveled against the Jewish state. The NGO Forum, held in parallel to the conference, was also marked by repeated expressions of naked anti-Semitism by non-governmental organization (NGO) activists. The Forum’s final declaration established an action plan designed to promote a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel and the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes. This policy has become the basis for an international campaign of delegitimization against Israel that is today led by groups advocating boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the Jewish State.

Fearing that Durban III will reaffirm the policies of Durban I and be used once more as a platform to question Israel's right to exist, promote anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and provoke new delegitimization campaigns, the United States has again joined Israel and at least 12 other countries (as of September 20) in boycotting the program. "The Durban process included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism," said President Obama, "and [the U.S.] does not want to see that commemorated."

The government of Canada, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the first to officially announce its intention to skip the 2011 conference. Jason Kenney, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, applauded Harper's decision to boycott Durban III. "There was a pretty broad recognition after [Durban I] that it was mistake for Canada to lend its good name to that circus of hatred,” said Kenney. Referring to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, whose diatribe against Israel caused many delegations to pull out of the “Durban II” conference in 2009, and who is scheduled to speak during this year’s program, Kenney added, “A conference that gives a platform to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to advocate genocide is a sick joke.”

A spokesman for Poland, the latest country to pull out of the conference, said " We fear that the ten-year commemoration event will be used to foster opinions and positions that are the opposite of fighting racism and intolerance.”

In an attempt to highlight actual discrimination and persecution around the world, a coalition of 25 NGO's have organized a counter program titled, "We Have a Dream," that will run parallel to Durban III in New York. Famous human rights personalities such as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Canadian scholar Anne Bayefsky and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz will lead this demonstration to recognize the real abuses that are conspicuously overlooked by the United Nations.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, CBC News, UN Watch, United Nations, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Bloomberg News, Anti-Defamation League, NGO Forum, Kansas City Star