Durban 2001 – Memories from the frontline
By Jack Bloom
I attended the NGO forum that preceded the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban in August 2001.
I was unprepared for the brazen lies and naked Jew-hatred at a supposed human rights event.
No label was too extreme to hurl at Israel, including apartheid, crime against humanity, holocaust, Nazi, genocide, fascist, imperialist, and colonialist. Zionism was even guilty of anti-Semitism!
Anti-Zionist t-shirts, pamphlets and Palestinian head scarves were everywhere. At virtually all sessions a panellist portrayed Palestinians as victims of the worst crimes in history.
I was astonished at the booklet of cartoons distributed by the Arab Lawyers Union (ALU) that were as nasty as those of the Nazi era. Jews were portrayed as hook-nosed and vile, drinking the blood of Arab children, dominating the world. These cartoons remained on display at the ALU booth despite being denounced by Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I paid R20 at the stall of the Ahlul Bait Foundation of South Africa for a copy of the notorious antisemitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was an official publication of the Government of Iran, printed in Tehran. The introduction described Jews as “professional criminals of history”, and denounced Israel as a “deadly cancer” and “Satanic enemy”.
Pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted the lone session on the “Commission on Antisemitism”. ANC MP Pallo Jordan stared down one of them and said “You, sir, are rude!”, a rare but welcome intervention.
To top it all, a pro-Hitler pamphlet was placed on car windshields.
It was only after this festival of hate that I realised what was really going on.
The demonisation and double-standards of centuries of Jew-hatred were now channelled against the Jewish state. Previously it was virtuous to persecute Jews as Christ-killers, in a later age they were branded as an inferior race, and now the language of human rights is abused with the same intent – to dehumanise and destroy.
The new antisemitism denies the place of the Jewish state in the family of nations just as the old antisemitism denied the rightful place of the Jew in society. Israel is treated as “the Jew of the nations”.
It struck me that the venom and hysteria at Durban was a form of what psychologists call projection – attributing to other people one’s own intentions and behaviour.
In the Rwanda genocide the propaganda technique of “accusation in a mirror” was used. Radio broadcasts informed Hutus that Tutsis were planning to murder them, and exhorted them to strike first, so the mass murder was presented as self-defence.
If one is really looking for racism and Nazi-like behaviour, there is plenty to find in the Arab world.
Why is the pivotal role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, typically overlooked? He was a Nazi collaborator who Hitler used to rally Muslims against the Allied powers. He called on German radio for Jews everywhere to be killed. Despite being a wanted war criminal, he was still the Palestinian Arab leader in 1948.
Other Nazi war criminals found shelter in Eqypt, Syria and Iraq, and they assisted in the wars against Israel.
I was mightily puzzled throughout the Durban conference as to why the torrent of anti-Jewish hate speech in the Arab world was simply ignored.
Senior clerics call Jews “descendants of apes and pigs”, and they propagate the worst conspiracy theories. Why is this never called out by those who are quick to condemn the slightest hint of any other racist slur?
Article 7 of the Hamas Covenant proclaims: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!”
This theological mandate for genocide is widely repeated in the Arab world. A leading Muslim cleric in South Africa endorsed it as “prophetic words” after a newspaper queried why it was chanted at a Muslim rally in Cape Town shortly after the Durban conference.
While Jews are the primary victims of antisemitism, it is also a sign of deep moral rot in society that leads to future tragedy.
A delegate from the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation told me “what starts with Jews doesn’t end with Jews.”
One example is the suicide bombings that were endorsed against Jews then spread out to the rest of the world.
The perversion of the Durban conference is replicated in the skewed resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council which includes countries with the worst human rights records.
While antisemitism is rising in Western countries, the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain point to a brighter future of mutual respect between the monotheistic religions.