Monday, April 20, 2009

Canada and Durban II

Canada, like the US and some other countries, is boycotting Durban II--what one Canadian government official, embarrassingly, called an "anti-Israel Gong Show". Neither Canada's nor the US's refusal to attend is a surprise given both of our nations refusal to acknowledge the neocolonial constitution of our states. Indeed, Canada announced in January 2008 that it would be boycotting the conference, an announcement that followed on the heels of Canada's shameful refusal to sign the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Earlier today on Democracy Now, I heard Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African-Canadian Legal Clinic explain that

"Well, we are extremely disappointed by the boycott of these Western nations. While we’re disappointed, we are not surprised, because this is about accountability. These countries have not come to the table with clean hands. They have never really meant to participate and really be held accountable for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, a document they all signed onto in 2001, the exception of Israel and the United States. At least the United States and Israel are being consistent in their position. However, these other countries are quite hypocritical in their withdrawal. You know, many here feel that if these countries had come, they would have received a failing grade, because they have done little to nothing to implement the Program of Action.

The Durban Declaration and Program of Action is an excellent blueprint. There was nothing in that document that was racist, anti-Semitic. It was an expression of goodwill. It was an expression of encouragement in terms of the peace process in the Middle East. And it is an excellent document and a blueprint that countries should adopt in working to eradicate racism.

Too bad Margaret Parsons isn't Canada's Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism. Instead, we have Jason Kenney, a far right neocon whose ideas about Canadian values is exclusive, to say the least--"Canada isn't a hotel," he blubbered. Kenney's comments toe the neocon white-ordered (ir)rationality line; indeed, shockingly and much to the frustration and outrage of many Canadians, Jason Kenney is promoting racism. Yet conversely, last year when he announced that Canada will boycott Durban II, he gave the reason as:

"Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it," Kenney told The Canadian Press. "We'll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance."

Well, Kenney has his role model: our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, speaking to the journalists organized by the Washington-based think-tank The Israel Project, equates Durban II with racism.

Our government will participate in any international conference that combats racism,” Harper said. “We will not, however, lend Canada’s good name to those, such as Durban II, that promote it.”

Despite the Canadian government's unwillingness to engage with RESOLVING racism--for to look at racism means to look at systemic racism, which means to look at institutionalized racism, which means to look at colonization, which means to look at the issue of land, which then means to settle land claims and recognize theft of resources, which isn't what our current conservative government intends to do--a number of Canadian groups do recognize the need for systemic change, as noted in their Joint Statement: Durban Review Conference:

"As civil society we are here to affirm our commitment to this Conference. Despite our multicultural makeup, we in Canada continue to face many and serious challenges with racism in all spheres of society. Racism is a harsh everyday reality for Aboriginal and racialized communities who suffer disproportionate levels of poverty, access to decent employment, and social services such as education, housing and healthcare. Aboriginal peoples continue to struggle against extreme poverty, social exclusion and violation of their human, environmental and land rights. African-Canadians struggle against colour coded economic disparity, criminalization and racial profiling. Arabs and Muslims continue to face hate crimes, racial and religious targeting by overzealous security legislation. Arab Canadians such as Mahar Arar, Abousfian Abdelrazik, have been marooned in their birth countries by our government. They have been subjected to torture and horrific human rights violations because of flawed anti-terrorism measures and wilful political negligence."

Last Nov, 2008, Diana Ralph, a Jewish Canadian, "found no substance to allegations of anti-Semitism at WCAR [Durban World Conference on Anti-racism]. Independent Jewish Voices urges the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP to rejoin the Durban Review Conference and stand up against racism." After attending a preparatory session, she wrote:

"As a Jew, I went to assess the validity of the Canadian government’s charges that Durban II is anti-Semitic. I found it was not. Instead, I witnessed delegates of the world’s nations hammering out an inspiring call to end racism worldwide and implement the Durban agreements.
In the aftermath of Durban 2001, well-funded Israel Lobby groups have mobilized to discredit and derail the upcoming Durban Review Conference. They include the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, UN Watch, ICARE-Magenta Foundation, the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress. They characterize WCAR as an “anti-Semitic hate fest” and label any attention to the valid concerns of Palestinians as “anti-Semitic.” They defend Israeli discriminatory practices, and condemn the “use of human rights language to discredit a state” (i.e. Israel). They argue for “freedom of expression,” that is, the “freedom” of media to attack Muslims and Islam. They object to the term “Islamophobia,” because, they say, religions aren’t protected, as though targeting Muslims for being Muslims is less offensive than attacking Jews for being Jewish. And they support anti-Arab racial profiling in the name of fighting “terrorism.

Obama, too, has received some deserved criticism for pandering to Israel at the expense of addressing racism as it effects African-American communities, as well as refusing to take a hard look at how (like Canada) racism has been the building block of the nation-state:

Chris Hedges writes:

"Israel and the United States, which could be charged under international law with crimes against humanity for actions in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, will together boycott the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Geneva. Racism, an endemic feature of Israeli and American society, is not, we have decided, open for international inspection. Barack Obama may be president, but the United States has no intention of accepting responsibility or atoning for past crimes, including the use of torture, its illegal wars of aggression, slavery and the genocide on which the country was founded. We, like Israel, prefer to confuse lies we tell about ourselves with fact."

Glen Ford, journalist and executive editor of Black takes mainstream African Americans to task for not challenging Obama on the US's lop-sided attention to Israel re:Durban II at the expense of the history/practices of racism against African Americans and other racialized communities in the US:

"We must first ask: Why is the White House reporting to “Jewish leaders” on an issue that is of interest to all Americans, most especially people of color? Has Obama arranged such briefings on Durban II for “Black leaders,” “Latino leaders,” or “Native American leaders” – representatives of constituencies that have suffered genocide, slavery, discrimination, forced displacement and all manner of racist assaults right here on American soil? No, he has not. Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will. Across the Black political spectrum, so-called leadership seems incapable of shame or of taking manly or womanly offense at even the most blatant insults to Black people when the source of the affront is Barack Hussein Obama."

Nora Barrows-Friedman, in "UN Protects Israel Against Racism Charges" writes:

...two weeks ago, the UN High Commissioner's office unilaterally cancelled all side-events pertaining to Palestine issues. Ingrid Jarradat- Gassner, director of the BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in Bethlehem, one of several Palestine-based organisations attending the Durban Review conference, tells IPS that BADIL and the other NGOs had organised a side-event specifically about how and why they see Israel as a "regime of institutionalised racial discrimination on both sides of the Green Line."

"As Palestinian NGOs and other NGOs working on the issue of Israel and its violations against the rights of the Palestinian people, we were expecting that there would be a possibility for us to organise these side-events during the official Durban review conference in Geneva," Jarradat-Gassner says. "We were informed by the UN itself that this would be possible."

Jarradat-Gassner says that on Apr. 3, less than three weeks before the Durban Review Conference, the UN High Commissioner's office called BADIL's representative in Geneva into a meeting at the UN, and verbally informed her that all side-events pertaining to the specific issue of Palestine and Israel had been banned.
Dr. Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, tells IPS he had not known about the disallowance of side-events pertaining to Palestine/Israel by the UN's OHCHR. "One has to assume it was part of an effort to meet the objections of the United States that the event was discrediting to the extent it engaged in 'Israel-bashing'." However, Falk points out, "U.S. leverage is probably greater than it has been because Obama is President and Washington has indicated its intention to rejoin the Human Rights Council."

Palestinian organisations say that banning these side-events is a significant disappointment in pursuing Israel's legal responsibility towards its actions in Palestine. Dr. Falk echoes this sentiment. "I believe that the strong evidence of Israeli racism during the recent Gaza attacks makes it strange to refuse NGOs organising side-events to address the issue," he tells IPS. "Also, the collective punishment aspects of the occupation seem to qualify the Israeli policy as a form of racism, combined with the rise of the extreme right, with (Avigdor) Lieberman as (Israeli) foreign minister

Marcy, at Body on the Line, says god damn America and all the other racist states boycotting Durban 2. She has a written a good post on the hypocrisy of the smearing of Ahmedinejad as racist (who's calling who a racist? she wonders), the zionists camped out at Durban II (isn't John Voight Angelina Jolie's dad?; no wonder he's at Durban as part of the pro-Zionist cheerleading squad--he considers Israel "a moral beacon"), and has links to articles and videos.

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