Durban Review Conference Begins Today

Unfortunately, with many fewer participants than it would would have taken to assure a productive, substantive conference on anti-racism.  Joining Israel, Canada, the United States, Italy, and Australia in announcing boycotts over the weekend were Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and, making it official, the United StatesAccording to the Prez:

I would love to be involved in a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of racism and discrimination around the globe…[but] We expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns that if you adopted all of the language from 2001, that’s not something we can sign up for,” Obama said.

“Hopefully some concrete steps come out of the conference that we can partner with other countries on to actually reduce discrimination around the globe, but this wasn’t an opportunity to do it,” he said.

While this justification — the Geneva conference will affirm a previous conference in which we did not participate, therefore we cannot support it — may seem enticingly logical, it is ultimately, as we have repeatedly shown with some exasperation here on Dispatch, rather shallow and disingenuous.  To oppose a conference that inarguably did produce a substantive platform for combatting racism, only because of one reference to Israel was unfortunate enough; to oppose its successor simply because it mentions the expansive document in which Israel was itself mentioned is downright unjustifiable.  After Western countries worked to secure a compromise document to engender greater participation in Geneva, this flimsy objection by the United States seems to be quite a reach for a country for whom anti-racism supposedly remains an important cause.

Without the participation of so many Western, rights-upholding countries, the Review Conference in Geneva risks degenerating into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  President Obama’s worry that it isn’t “an opportunity” to fight racism rings hollow; how could the United States be “involved” in a productive conference if it chooses not to involve itself?  The unsustainability of this position is illustrated by this statement from a British diplomat quoted by Julian Borger in the Guardian: “Our position is: we’ve got our shoes on, and we can walk at any time.”  Standing at the edge of the room with your shoes on, one foot already out the door, is no way to participate in a conference.

If Western countries wanted to ensure that the conference focused on substantive matters, and didn’t lapse into juvenile Israel-bashing, they should have come, and come prepared.  Jon Voight may be crazy, but he’s got the right idea here — instead of letting the fox have the keys to the henhouse, show up with your gloves on, ready for a fight to defend what you believe in.  Any complaints about what the conference was not able to achieve will now be entirely self-fulfilling.