Israeli UN Ambassador, Canadian Antisemitism Special Envoy, Top Human Rights Voices Urge Countries to Stay Away From Durban Anniversary Event

A still image from the “A Festival of Hate: How to Defeat the Durban Strategy – A Primary Vector of 21st Century Antisemitism" webinar.

August 4, 2021

Leading voices in the world of non-governmental and human rights organizations came together on Tuesday for a forum to examine the upcoming UN commemorations of the Durban Conference and the antisemitic rhetoric surrounding the “Durban Strategy” of demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state.

The discussion was held online as a webinar organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), NGO Monitor, International Legal Forum, and UK Lawyers for Israel, in partnership with B’nai B’rith International and the Lantos Foundation, and was titled “A Festival of Hate: How to Defeat the Durban Strategy – A Primary Vector of 21st Century Antisemitism.”

Keynote addresses were given by Israel’s UN Ambassador H.E. Gilad Erdan and the Hon. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Antisemitism Special Envoy and CAM Advisory Board Member.

In addition to examining the current situation, the discussion also looked at the history of the antisemitic Durban Conference, and considered best practices in how to defend Israel and the Jewish community against this and other contemporary forms of antisemitism — in particular as outlined in the IHRA working definition of antisemitism — and the importance of those countries who have adopted IHRA’s definition to withdraw from and speak out against the UN’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Durban Conference, or Durban IV.

A full video of the event can be viewed here:

Addressing the webinar, Ambassador Erdan said, “The violent attacks against Jews all around the world during Operation Guardian of the Walls, and the fact that the swastika was found at the US State Department, are alarming reminders of the severe wave of antisemitism we have been experiencing and of the urgency that exists to take action. The attacks were also a clear demonstration of what we have all been saying for years: anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”

“Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes this fact,” he warned. “Some are fooled by the attempts of BDS and other antisemitic actors to hide their bigotry behind false claims of promoting human rights and fighting racism.”

Ambassador Erdan noted, “Over 30 countries have adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, but only 10 countries announced they wouldn’t participate in the event. It is time for these countries to put their money where their mouth is and refuse to participate in the appalling commemoration event.”

So far, ten countries — the US, UK, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Israel — have announced they will not attend the event.

Ambassador Erdan emphasized, “According to the definition, claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor, and applying a double standard to Israel is antisemitism. Referencing the Palestinians in the section of victims of racism in order to paint Israel as a racist country and not mentioning any specific conflict other than the Israeli-Palestinian one, a clear double standard, make the declaration clearly antisemitic.”

He said he was working to promote the adoption of the IHRA definition as the official definition for all UN bodies, and reported he had discussed this issue with UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Ambassador Erdan concluded, “I believe that the definition will serve as a powerful tool to combat antisemitism at the UN and in its bodies that have been plagued with antisemitism, like UNRWA.”

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan.

Noting the impact of the Durban strategy on diplomatic and civil society fields, Special Envoy Cotler explained, “What happened at Durban was truly Orwellian. A conference to combat racism turned into a conference of racism against Israel and the Jewish people, only. A conference that was supposed to herald the promotion and protection of human rights in the 21st century singled out one member state, one member people – Israel and the Jewish people for selective opprobrium and indictment. A conference that was supposed to remember the dismantling of South African apartheid became a conference about dismantling Israel as an apartheid state.”

He added, “Twenty years later, the Durban legacy of hate continues — the mainstreaming, the normalization, the legitimization of antisemitism in the political culture and the absence of outrage underscored by indifference and inaction.”

Special Envoy Cotler also highlighted concerns about the “globalization of the phenomenon of antisemitism.”

“What happens in London and Paris reverberates in Montreal and Toronto,” he pointed out.

In particular, he drew attention the recent worldwide increase in antisemitic incidents, saying, “We need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitic hate crimes. 2020 saw the highest increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere. We need to emphasize that antisemitism is toxic to democracies. It is an assault on our common humanity. It is the canary in the mineshaft of global evil today. And we know painfully too well that while it begins with Jews, it never ends with Jews.”

Special Envoy Cotler called for a “zero-tolerance policy among our political leaders and political parties for the combating of antisemitism.”

“We can’t just call out antisemitism in other political parties,” he declared. “We have to call it out in our own political parties. We must expose and unmask the laundering of antisemitism under the universal social values, under the protective cover of the United Nations, the authority of international law, and the culture of human rights, and disturbingly under the struggle against racism itself.”

Speakers also noted that the infamous UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which stated, “Zionism is racism,” was revoked in 1991, yet its effects are still felt today.

Canadian Antisemitism Special Envoy, the Honorable Irwin Cotler.

Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, Executive Director of the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said, “The UN ignores true humanitarian crises happening in the Middle East and elsewhere, while continuing to disproportionately condemn and demonize the State of Israel. To all intent and purpose, the Durban conference in 2001 reinstated the libel of UNGA Resolution 3379 by perverting international human rights laws and practicing severe historical revisionism. Durban perpetuates the delegitimization of Israel and foments contemporary forms of antisemitism under the guise of human rights while operating under the protective cover of the United Nations. The conference has also proved to be a breeding ground for antisemitic epithets where documents, including the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were distributed. This important discussion today was an opportunity to help galvanize efforts to combat this all-out attack on Israel and its very right to exist.”

Other speakers included International Legal Forum Chair and CEO Arsen Ostrovsky, NGO Monitor Vice President Olga Deutsch, and UK Lawyers for Israel Legal Director Natasha Hausdorff.

“We need to keep in mind — Durban was the birthplace of the modern BDS movement,” Ostrovsky said. “What happened in 2001 is inextricably intertwined to what is happening today in 2021 when we see antisemitism surging around the world…This kind of explosive climate doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The seeds of this unrestricted outbreak of violence against Jews, of this lawfare against Jews, came from Durban.”

Deutsch recalled,  “The Durban Conference in 2001 was the first time that Jews since World War II experienced such institutionalized antisemitism, directed at the Jewish state… it was the complete and total isolation of Israel.”

Hausdorff noted, “In order to justify their hatred in a socially-acceptable way, antisemites need a rationale they can pass in polite society, and ideally one that appeals directly to the highest source of authority that is currently in fashion, and anti-racism has for some time now been that vehicle.”