At Durban II: Preparing for the conference

At Durban II: Preparing for the conference

Posted by Zach Novetsky, EUJS Ambassador to the Durban Review Conference

It was a rainy day in New York when I received a frantic phone call from a friend at New York University involved with The European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS): "Don't ask too many questions," he said, "We want you to be one of three American student representatives of EUJS at the UN Durban II Conference in Geneva."

Ignoring my friend's words, I resorted to my habit of sardonic questioning: "You mean the follow-up conference to Durban I that was committed to eradicating racial discrimination and xenophobia, but which ironically devolved into the most vitriolic, state-sanctioned anti-Semitism since Nazi Germany?" I am sure he was rolling his eyes on the other side of the line, but he replied, "Yes, that is the one."

Not yet complete with my question, I continued, "You want me to attend a conference where in 2001 (at the original Durban conference) Jews were verbally and at times physically assaulted for being 'Zionist sympathizers'?"


Anti-Zionist Jews and pro-Palestinian supporters participate in a protest march in Durban to coincide with the opening of the 2001 UN Racism Conference PHOTO: AP

"Yes, Zach, we do."

Finally content with my witty remarks, I ended my diatribe. And so I was chosen. Although my questions would sound satirical to an outsider, my friend knew they were not made in jest; I wish the eradication of racial discrimination and xenophobia were Durban II's primary concerns, obviating the need for anyone to represent a specifically Jewish voice at this conference. I do not know what to expect in Geneva but I have little reason for optimism. What I do know is that I am going to Geneva to defend my country's (yes, my country even though I do not hold Israeli citizenship) right to self-determination, self-defense, and most importantly its right to exist.

Anti-Israel demonstration at the Durban Conference in 2001 PHOTO: AP

When asked what I am doing to prepare for Geneva, I can only respond that the essence of my life, the Jewish people's history, has been my preparation for such obstacles. Even before the State of Israel was Israel, we Jews have longed for a return to our homeland, a homeland taken from us not once, but many times throughout history (by the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and the British to name only a few). For anyone to question our people's right to a land of their own, to call this political and nationalistic aspiration racism (as Durban I so callously and foolishly did), is to condone oppression. The only times in Israel's history that it has not suffered colonial rule is under the local rule of Jews. To deprive Jews of their right to Israel would simply drive them into the hostile arms of the world, a world that has a sordid history of persecuting them.

As an American citizen, as a Jew, but most importantly as a human being, I felt a moral obligation to answer in the affirmative when asked to represent the American-Jewish student voice at Durban II. Even though the US, Israel, Canada, Italy, Australia and now the Netherlands are boycotting the conference, it would be a tragedy if no sensible representation were present in Geneva to combat the mistruths, hatred, and Janus-faced antics of the conference's organizers - Libya, Cuba, and Iran (countries that are among the worst human rights violators in the world).

The first Durban conference quickly devolved into an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate fest PHOTO: AP

And despite my parents and friends' concerns about my physical safety, I am both mentally and physically prepared to attend this conference. Can you imagine - to attend a United Nations' conference on the promotion of human rights, my parents and friends have to worry about my physical safety! Irony of ironies, tragedy of tragedies!

I pray that we do not see a repetition of Durban I at this conference, but in the likely event that this occurs, here is one Jew who will be there holding a banner for all to see with the words, "Never Again!"

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