One of the lessons of history is that antisemitic slanders can have persistent harmful consequences, even long after they have been officially disavowed.
Think, for example, of the infamous 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism that was officially rescinded by the U.N. in 1991. Despite that important reversal, the erroneous and destructive notion that Israel is a fundamentally racist endeavor had already spread through academia and libraries for years and seeped into the thinking of many elites throughout the international community.
Indeed, it set the stage for the next greatest manifestation of official anti-Zionist, antisemitic declarations by the international community, the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. Had the fallacious notion that Zionism is racism never entered the world scene in 1975 as a tool of Soviet propaganda, it is entirely possible that the 2001 Durban conference intended to focus on the real problem of racism in the world would not have been hijacked by haters of Israel and Jews.
In 2010, another conference was convened to commemorate Durban. As ADL had with these previous injustices, at that time we again denounced the event, calling it disgraceful to glorify and continue the work of Durban which was marred by antisemitism. We called on nations not to participate in this travesty that hindered, rather than helped in the struggle against all forms of discrimination.
And we praised those nations which voted against a resolution to convene that commemoration, and who subsequently did not attend.
All this comes to mind as the international community is now preparing for the 20th annual commemoration of Durban. On September 22, the nations of the world are scheduled to convene at the United Nations to commemorate Durban 20 years later. And once again, we have called on all responsible nations not to attend. We are pleased that at this writing a number of important states, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France, and, of course, Israel have made clear their intention not to attend.
What makes this year’s commemoration particularly troubling is that it comes at a time when several factors come together which make a continuation of Durban even more problematic than before. We see evidence of a continuum of the Zionism is racism resolution, enhanced by the Durban declaration which accused Israel of being an apartheid state, where today these themes are being increasingly normalized in major parts of the international community.
We see antisemitism surging in the world in a way that was not recognizable when the original Durban conference took place, both in terms of violent physical incidents and the hateful conspiracy theories that fuel them, not least in online spaces during recent years.
And we see efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state growing apace, with some of those efforts emboldening individuals to attack Jews in cities in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Where this particularly intersects with the damage caused by the slander that Zionism is racism and the Durban conference is in the very same kind of perversion of the legitimate struggle against racism into an assault on the good name of Israel and the Jewish people.
Exactly because there is so much legitimate attention to issues of racial discrimination in the United States and elsewhere is what makes it more important than ever that these legitimate concerns should not be diverted into anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity.
Just as we should reject the assaults on Jews by those who do so in the name of fighting racism, we must do so with regard to a conference to revitalize the Durban framework that played a major role in keeping this gross distortion on the world stage.
And, as we have noted before, those who are truly serious about addressing issues of racial discrimination in the world should be the most interested in opposing Durban commemorations. Manifestations of antisemitism undermine the credibility of the struggle against racism and divert attention from the serious work to be done.
So, let’s issue a dual pledge: to commit to continuing the fight against racism and to commit to not letting that vital work be hijacked by antisemitism under the guise of the fight against racism.