Demonizing Durban: Obscuring Racism

18 Aug

Demonizing Durban

[Prefatory Note: The post below describes the campaign carried on over the last 20 years by pro-Israeli propaganda, both government and NGO, to defame the UN dedicated anti-racist efforts as a new species of antisemitism. It is a perverse effort that shields Israel’s racist policies and practices toward the Palestinian people behind a perverse contention that criticism of these policies should be viewed as antisemitism. The piece was originally published in Transcend Media Service, and appears here in its original form. For the link to the original <; ]

EDITORIAL, 16 Aug 2021 

#706 | Richard Falk – TRANSCEND Media Service


16 Aug 2021 – An insidious campaign has been underway to demonize the UN sponsorship of an anti-racist initiative to hold a one-day conference at the UN on September 22, 2021 that is a continuation of what has come to be known as the ‘Durban Process.’ This identifies the ongoing effort over the last twenty years to implement the Durban Declaration and the accompanying Program of Action that was adopted at the “World Conference Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance DURBAN” held in Durban, South Africa 20 years ago.

The Durban Conference was controversial even before the delegates convened, anticipated as a forum at which Israel, colonialism, the legacy of slavery, and victimization of vulnerable ethnicities would be depicted and condemned. It was formally under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, whose High Commissioner, Mary Robinson was put under pressure from the West to cancel the event. She refused, and instead of being praised for her independence, this highly principled former President of Ireland was denied support by Washington for reappointment to a second term as High Commissioner. Israel and the United States withdrew from the conference and boycotted smaller follow up events in 2009 and 2011, which explains why the forthcoming gathering is identified as Durban IV.

At the 2001 conference, which was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which occurred just days after the close of Durban, there were many speeches delivered by representatives of various governments, including several that criticized Israel for racist policies and practices perpetrated against the Palestinian peoples, including the allegation that Zionism was a form of racism, which had previously been asserted in GA Resolution (see GA Res. 3379 passed by a vote of 72-35 with 32 abstentions, A/RES/3379, 10 Nov 1975; revoked in 1991 without explanation in GA Res. 46/96)). In addition to the inter-governmental Durban Conference there was a parallel NGO Forum devoted to the same agenda in which inflammatory speeches and declarations were made. Yet the overriding inspirational theme was provided by the successful struggle against apartheid in South Africa as both legitimating the event and the current need to address the long unfinished anti-racist agenda.

The Outcome at Durban

The main formal outcomes of the Durban Conference were two significant, comprehensive texts known as the Durban Declaration and the Durban Program of Action. The Durban Process subsequent to 2001 has been more or less exclusively concerned with the implementation of these two formal UN documents, which are wide spectrum depictions of a whole range of grievances arising from the mistreatment of various categories of vulnerable people by war of the enforcement of human rights law and through a variety of means including through education and the activism of civil society, NGOs, and even the private sector. There exists absolutely no basis for complaining that Israel has been singled out for criticism or that provisions of the conference documents can be fairly read as antisemitic or even anti-Israeli, yet as will be shown below, such a campaign has been relentlessly waged to discredit all that Durban stands almost exclusively because of its supposed extreme bias against Israel.

A fair reading of both documents would conclude that Israel actually been spared justifiable criticism, most probably as a result of pressures brought to bear on both the UN and media before and during the conference. If we look at the texts we come away with an impression that Israeli sensitivities were understood and respected. Apartheid and genocide were condemned in general terms, but without any negative reference to Israel, and in fact an inclusion that did single out Israel in a manner that it should have welcomed. In para. 58 of the Declaration we find the following assertion: “..we recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” And para. 61 takes note with “deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.” It seems outright perverse to discredit the Durban Declaration as a screed against Jews.

In the course of the Declaration’s 122 paragraphs the Israel/Palestine situation is only mentioned in Para. 63, and then in a neutral manner that seems to overlook the deliberate victimization of the Palestinian people. It reads as follows: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.” What can possibly be offensive to even the most ardent Israeli supporter about such a provision, which is buried deep in a 30 page declaration in language that points no accusing fingers at Israel.

Israel’s Anti-Durban Campaign

And yet the reality of Durban, the violence of the language used to denounce these documents and the Durban Process seems extreme, and to emanate from sources known to follow closely the official line disseminated by Tel Aviv. British Colonel Richard Kemp writing on the notoriously right-wing website of the Gladstone Institute is rarely outdone in his backing of Israel’s use of force against defenseless Gaza. Kemp brands the Durban Process “as the UN’s infamous 20-year old showpiece vendetta against Israel” and pronounces his judgement that “Durban IV will re-energize this shameful process.” [“Fighting the Blight of Durban,” July 29, 2021] Kemp is comfortable invoking the hyperbolic language of UN Watch that absurdly labels Durban as “..the worst international manifestation of antisemitism in the post-war period.”

UN Watch separately expressed its venomous view of the Durban Process a month earlier in a news release under the grossly misleading headline, “Durban IV: Key Facts,” May 24, 2021, summarized by the phrase a “perversion of principles of anti-racism.” This characterization of Durban is made more concrete by asserting that it makes “…baseless claims against the Jewish people,” is used “to promote racism, intolerance, antisemitism and Holocaust denial…and to erode Israel’s right to exist.” This libelously false language of UN Watch should be compared with the texts of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, the implementation of which is the overriding goal of the Durban Process, to gain some insight into the dark motivations of these Israeli oriented critics.

2021- Israel and Apartheid

True enough as of 2021 there would be no way to avoid supposing that ‘the plight of the Palestinian people’ was a direct result of Israeli apartheid, which is not only condemned by the Durban process, but is firmly established as a crime against humanity in both the 1974 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. It is no longer reasonable to dismiss allegations of Israeli apartheid as extremist, much less as manifestations of antisemitism. Yet because Israel, with U.S. support, still controls the mainstream discourse in the West, the media stares at such stark findings in stony silence despite the prolonged suffering of the Palestinian people—a convincing reminder that where geopolitics and morality/legality clash, geopolitics prevails.

Redeeming the Durban Process 

There are two sets of observations that make these attacks on a laudable UN effort by way of Durban to highlight the many facets of racism and racial discrimination shameful and shameless. The Durban Process has become the core of a worldwide human rights campaign to increase public awareness and raise concerns within the UN as to the many varieties of racist criminality, as well as to underscore the responsibility of governments and the potential contributions of civil society activism.

It is notable that Israel and its behavior are not given nearly the attention in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action that such other issues as the abuse of indigenous peoples, Roma, migrants, and refugees. Indeed, in light of more recent developments that confirmed earlier concerns about Palestinian victimization the Durban Process, if anything, can be faulted for backgrounding Israel’s racism and falling into to the hasbara trap of imposing symmetrical responsibility on the oppressor and the victim, blaming both sides, precisely to foil the growing tendency of Israel’s organized support to play the antisemitic card as a growing tactic to deflect public attention away from a growing consensus that Israel operates as an apartheid state.

Perhaps, in the atmosphere of 2001 it was politically provocative to accuse Israel of racism and apartheid, although as I have tried to show, these allegations directed at Israel in the open debate at Durban were never followed up in the formal outcome of the Durban Conference. And as has made clear by its proponents, the Durban Process is primarily concerned with implementing the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. By 2021, what was provocative twenty years ago has become multiply confirmed by trustworthy and reliable detailed assessments, and indirectly endorsed by the Israeli Basic Law enacted by the Knesset in 2018. The highlights of this dynamic have taken place over the course of the last five years: –the release in March 2017 of an independent academic study sponsored by  UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia(ESCWA) that concluded that Israel’s policies and practices constituted overwhelming confirmation of allegations of apartheid [“The Practices of Israel toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”;—the report of the Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, “A regime of Jewish Supremacy from The Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid,” 12 Jan 2021—the Human Rights Report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021.

It is no longer plausible to contend that associating Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people as antisemitic. As a Jew myself, I regard Israeli justifications for its behavior toward Palestine as the embodiment of antisemitic behavior, bringing discredit to the Jewish people.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019). 

17 Responses to “Demonizing Durban: Obscuring Racism”

  1. Ray Jureidini August 18, 2021 at 5:21 am #

    Dear Professor Falk, We met briefly in Doha. I also was at the 2001 Durban conference. One could not help but notice certain people speaking so eloquently in support of Palestinians. However, it was also disturbing how they gradually watered down their support as the conference proceeded. I speak of people like Harry Belefonte and Jesse Jackson that I remember in particular, but there were others. This is so common at many levels around the world, and I cannot help but wonder what precisely is said to them to have them capitulate to the Israeli side? And I always wonder if there is an Epstein factor involved… Regards and best wishes to you. Ray Jureidini

    ============= *Professor Rajai Ray Jureidini*

    *Migration Ethics and Human RightsResearch Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics* *College of Islamic Studies* *Hamad Bin Khalifa University* *PO Box: 34110 Doha, Qatar* Tel: +974 4454 6696 Mob: +974 6686 2439

    On Wed, Aug 18, 2021 at 10:49 AM Global Justice in the 21st Century wrote:

    > Richard Falk posted: ” Demonizing Durban [Prefatory Note: The post below > describes the campaign carried on over the last 20 years by pro-Israeli > propaganda, both government and NGO, to defame the UN dedicated anti-racist > efforts as a new species of antisemitism. It is a per” >

    • Richard Falk August 18, 2021 at 9:35 pm #

      I remember our contact in Doha. I was glad to hear about these reactions by African Americans
      at Doha from someone who was there. Not surprising, but I suspect for many anxiety about becoming targets of pro-Israeli
      defamatory attacks. With greetings from Turkey, Richard

    • Rabbi Ira Youdovin August 23, 2021 at 10:47 am #

      Ray Jureidini recalls that at the 2001 Durban conference, “certain people speaking so eloquently in support of Palestinians…gradually watered down their support as the conference proceeded. I speak of people like Harry Belefonte and Jesse Jackson…” Prof. Falk’s comment: “Not surprising, but I suspect many had anxiety about becoming targets of pro-Israeli defamatory attacks.”
      What’s not surprising in this exchange is Prof. Falk’s use of a very old and distressingly familiar strategy: when something you don’t like is happening, blame the Jews. In the middle ages, when their strict dietary laws enabled Jews to escape the food-borne plagues that were devastating Europe, anti-Semites accused them of poisoning the wells and launched pogroms of murder, rape and pillage in their ghettos.
      Why would well-established octogenarians like Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte fear Jewish defamatory attacks? The allegation is ludicrous. More reasonable is the likelihood that Jackson, Belafonte and others, having accepted invitations to address a UN-sponsored conference on racism and racial discrimination, were discomforted by finding themselves in a cesspool of anti-Semitic rhetoric and racist visual images. Posters depicting Jews with evil eyes and hooked noses were on display. Speakers suggested that Hitler’s murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust was justified. The infamous anti-Semitic text, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, was sold at the event.

      The United States, Canada, France, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands the Czech Republic and Israel have announced that they will not attend this year’s event. Bulgaria, Italy, New Zealand and Poland—which have boycotted previous iterations—have not as yet announced their intentions this time. French President Emmanuel Macron explained that he was “concerned by a history of antisemitic remarks made at the UN conference on racism, known as the Durban Conference.”

      To allege that Macron and the others have been duped is an insult to them and the countries they lead. Their decision was not influenced by what Prof. Falk slanders as “an insidious campaign to demonize the conference.” All of them had representatives at previous sessions who reported what they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.

      Prof. Falk’s argument that only a relatively small portion of the agenda focuses on Israel is misleading. The anti-Semites plan their racist initiatives with an eye toward gaining maximum media exposure, thus hi-jacking the conference.

      The tragedy here is that the world needs a conference on racism and racial injustice that draws maximum attention to these evils everywhere, including the Arab/Islamic world. The obsession with defaming Israel and Jews undermines this objective. This past year, the UN’s Human Rights Council established permanent inquiry into alleged Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, while completely ignoring the 4,300 rockets Hamas fired at Israeli citizens—men, women and children—during the recent round of fighting

      This repeats a familiar pattern. In 2008, the Council appointed as its Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights a man who a year earlier had compared Israel to Nazi Germany. There followed six years of relentlessly one-sided Israel bashing, which sent an unambiguous assurance to Palestinian extremists that the UN would turn a blind eye on their terrorism, undermine public confidence in the UN’s ability to serve as a force for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and diminished the UN’s status in the eyes of the western democracies.
      Prof. Falk frequently refers to a UN report accusing Israel of imposing apartheid on the Palestinians. Let’s unpack that claim. The report was commissioned by the Economic and Social Council of Western Asia (ESCWA), which is comprised of twenty Arab states: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Several Arab states that are not in western Asia are included, while Israel, which is part of the region, is excluded.

      ESCWA has a broad agenda which could be better pursued by including Israel, which has the region’s strongest economy and is its most technologically developed. But here again, a UN body has been hi-jacked and weaponized against Israel. ESCWA commissioned two academicians with impeccable anti-Israel credentials, including the aforementioned Special Rapporteur, to write the report, and then attempted to post it on the UN’s website without obtaining the required approval of the Secretary General, who ordered it removed. Nevertheless, its authors and supporters continue to hype it as an official UN document, which it is not.
      It’s bitterly ironic that people who loudly support the United Nations allow their hostility toward Israel and its supporters to undermine the very institution they claim to champion.
      Rabb Ira Youdovin

      • Richard Falk August 23, 2021 at 12:19 pm #

        Mean-spirited as ever, and striking by its failure to take any account of the tangible legacy of the Durban Conference: The Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. By the way I have always stressed that the ESCWA study featured a disclaimer by the UN that the study was exclusively the views of the authors and NOT of the UN.

      • Beau Oolayforos October 27, 2021 at 7:53 pm #

        One wonders how on earth Prof. Falk ever got the notion that dissenters could be subject to “defamatory attacks” by pro-Israeli people.

        Rabbi, have you ever heard of “Once bitten, twice shy”? Richard Falk has wounds.

  2. Kata Fisher August 18, 2021 at 1:49 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    It is just amazing just how strategic they are to do interrupt and to dissolve something. It is the only thing they are missing is Israeli Reserve Uniforms at UN.

    Who can do that, and who else is the World is doing what they are doing at UN?
    Can they do that upon civil society what they are doing right now at UN?

    They are not just like a bunch a kids with their drums in the middle of the night – that one can and should tell them: “Hay, its to late, and this makes no sense at this time.”

  3. Kata Fisher August 19, 2021 at 1:45 pm #

    Professor Falk, can they be taken to Bosnia – for Emergency evacuation? At least until they figure out where they should be. K.F.

    • Richard Falk August 19, 2021 at 9:51 pm #

      Why Bosnia? It has suffered enough without becoming a dumping ground for refugee no European government wants to admit?

      • Kata Fisher August 19, 2021 at 10:50 pm #

        Dear Professor Falk. We do not want to have toxic grounds made available for ecclesiastical people – like Montenegro did for Kosovaars. Now they all have had dump in their rivers. The all did what they did. But God Himself has coughs up with them. Any other dumping grounds will be just fine for refuges. They do not know where to go -they just want to be safe. Bosnia is safe ground. For at least until refugees figure out for themselves where they should be, and must be. Ecclesiastical people can not be moved around and about by obnoxious and just Moran lay-people. They can be in Bosnia, and they can be safe as long as they must stay there. Everything they need is there. Russia and Iran can make sure that is so. Besides, I am still Bosnian Herzegovinian citizen, and have no other. And, I can invite countless number of friends for a short and long-term stay. Or indefinite. Whatever they want for them self’s. Not just because I think:”I can just do that because I can.” K.F.

  4. Kata Fisher August 20, 2021 at 1:17 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk, American Embassy in Afghanistan is in Kabul Airport. Americans and their alliances left behind the weapons and equipment after they pooled troops out. They have enabled genocide with that. This Administration. They do this similarly all the time, and somehow O’ how they get away with it? Professor, the time and time-table is RIGHT NOW. K.F.

  5. Kata Fisher August 20, 2021 at 8:06 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk, I just understood it was communicated: “human rights/ refuge rights, and security – a long term security in a specific region.” Can you look, and see if that is exactly what was communicated. Thank you, K.F.

  6. Rabbi Ira Youdovin August 26, 2021 at 2:08 pm #

    Prof. Falk again avoids addressing the substance of my comment by accusing me of being hostile. This is odd coming from someone who sets the tone for a blog whose leitmotif is hostility.

    For example, he begins his post on Durban by accusing Israel, together with its Jewish and non-Jewish supporters throughout the world, of conducting an “insidious campaign” to undermine the Durban process. “Insidious” is a nasty word that conjures up the familiar anti-Semitic meme that Jews are sneaky. It implies stealth and the dissemination of false, inflammatory information. But the case against Durban has been clearly stated by Israel, the United States, the president of France and high ranking officials of more than a dozen nations citing unambiguous evidence of the pervasive role of blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric and graphics at the previous three Durban sessions. There’s nothing insidious about that!

    In fact, Prof Falk makes no attempt to deny this. Instead, he faults me for ignoring the good things Durban has accomplished. That, too, is odd coming from someone who rarely if ever says anything good about the people and nations he condemns. I once asked him (on this blog) why he didn’t provide a more balanced analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He replied that it would be against his principles.

    Moreover, his citing my not praising Durban as a tactic for diverting attention from the anti-Semitism tainting the Durban process reveals much about the extremist moral relativism that’s the driving force underlying his view of the world. Anything that’s intended to harm Israel and Jews is acceptable. That’s how he managed to spend six years as the UN’s Special Rapporteur for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation rife with human rights violations on both sides, without holding the Palestinians accountable for their infractions. And when the UN Secretary General had the temerity to assert a more balanced, fair-minded picture, Prof. Falk joined with Palestinian extremists seeking Israel’s extermination in signing a screed demanding the SG’s resignation.

    The key question here is why Prof. Falk, who proclaims himself to be a “citizen pilgrim” fighting for human rights and against racism everywhere, turns a blind eye on racism when it’s directed as Jews and Israel, casts defamatory rejoinders at those who call attention to it, and finds excuses for those who practice it? That question may be hostile. But it’s also legitimate.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Richard Falk August 26, 2021 at 10:39 pm #

      Rabbi Youdovin: Your response is illustrative of your consistent disinterest in genuine communication, and your preoccupation, as with UN Watch, with insulting the messenger. I feel you are exploiting my blog to engage in this malicious effort to associate me with antisemitic tropes, which are slurs that do not correspond my beliefs. I am neither so insensitive to be out of touch with my true beliefs nor so unintelligent as to be unaware of the implications of my views if properly contextualized. I feel you are exploiting my blog to mount these personal attacks, and if you wish to continue to do this I suggest you find venues sympathetic to your views. I will not allow your comments on this blog venue any longer. Richard Falk

      • Fred Skolnik August 27, 2021 at 3:17 am #

        What a malignant fool you are. Do you have any idea what you sound like and what any rational and fair-minded person will conclude when he places your responses alongside Rabbi Youdovin’s considered and caring remarks.

      • Richard Falk August 27, 2021 at 5:36 am #

        You are no longer welcome to comment on this website. I find your insults and vicious partisanship illustrative of the problem. Your role is to serve as, the ‘bad cop’ doing your part to complete the demolition job of the ‘good cop,’ Rabbi Youdovin. At least on this website you will not find a receptive audience for such libelous views.

  7. Kata Fisher September 2, 2021 at 10:10 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    I just have to tell you about this.

    You know what I told you about two weeks ago about the lady that was very vicious, and very deifying toward me, and how the elderly person walked in shorty after she left (and how I learned that it was Mr. Tomson), and how he just annulled her selfish nonsense.

    Guess what happened today: She comes in this evening – at 6:08 pm, gets her stuff, smirks’ at me while I was helping her, and she levees. At 6:34 pm Mr. Thompson was standing in front of me.

    I told you that God has sent him. I just knew God has sent him that day, and I just know God just confirmed to me that He did just that.

    This really gave me spiritual joy.

    I hope that it does same for you.



  1. Demonizzare Durban, Oscurare il Razzismo – Zeitun - September 11, 2021

    […] 16 agosto 2021 TRANSCEND Media Service […]

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