Globe and Mail | Aug. 31, 2001 | Orest Slepokura

The hijacking in Durban

The Editor:

RE: "The hijacking in Durban," Globe and Mail editorial. August 31, 2001.

In its editorial, The Globe and Mail states: "Belittling the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust is a typical example of modern anti-Semitism."

When the South African prime minister John Vorster made a state visit to Israel in April 1976, it began with a tour of Yad Vashem, Israel's major Holocaust memorial, where the late Yitzhak Rabin invited the onetime Nazi collaborator, unabashed racist and white supremacist to pay homage to Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Compared, say, to routine outcries from organized Jewry over often even mild whiffs of Holocaust controversy, no less remarkable was the bland equanimity both Israeli and diaspora Jews also displayed toward the Vorster visit.

Historian Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi recalls [The Israeli Connection, Random House: Toronto, 1987, p.x]: "For most Israelis, the Vorster visit was just another state visit by a foreign leader. It did not draw much attention. Most Israelis did not even remember his name, and did not see anything unusual, much less surreal in the scene [an old Nazi diehard invited to 'mourn' the victims at a Holocaust memorial]: Vorster was just another visiting dignitary being treated to the usual routine."

As an old Nazi collaborator, Vorster should, of course, have been arrested and tried the minute he set foot on Israeli soil -- instead, he had been graciously welcomed by his Jewish hosts.

The South African leader left Israel four days later -- after signing a number of friendship treaties between the Jewish state and South Africa's racist, apartheid regime. A denouement Leslie and Andrew Cockburn describe in Dangerous Liaison [Stoddart Publishing: Toronto, 1991, pp. 299 - 300]:

"The old Nazi sympathizer came away with bilateral agreements for commercial, military, and nuclear cooperation that would become the basis for future relations between the two countries."

That said, I am sure the Globe editorial board would agree that this all added up to "Belittling the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust" and proved an altogether remarkable example of Jewish anti-Semitism -- at the very highest levels; with, moreover, the tacit consent of the Jewish masses.

Sincerely yours,

Orest Slepokura
Strathmore AB

Toronto Globe and Mail | August 31, 2001 | Editorial

The hijacking in Durban

Friends of the United Nations can only shake their heads at the debacle that is unfolding in Durban, South Africa. The UN World Conference Against Racism was supposed to mark the beginning of a global struggle against that great evil. Gathering in the land that buried apartheid, delegates from 150 countries were to join hands against all forms of racism in a spirit of brotherhood.

Instead, the conference has turned into an ugly slanging match over the conflict in the Middle East. Arab activists and nations have tried to have the delegates declare Israel racist, an echo of the days when the UN General Assembly voted to declare that Zionism was racism. Jews attending the conference have been subjected to threats, abuse and intimidation. Posters circulating at a parallel, non-government conference display crude caricatures of Israelis with hooked noses and fangs dripping blood. Yesterday, the day before the official opening of the conference, Palestinian activists and their supporters hurled abused at Jewish students who had set up a table to hand out pamphlets. "Killers, murderers," they shouted.

The problem is not that Israel is being criticized. No one would object much if Arab delegates used the conference to launch the occasional tirade against Israel. That happens at almost every UN gathering. But the jibes this time have come perilously close to open anti-Semitism. "Israeli practices against the Palestinians have surpassed the Holocaust in horror," Faruq Qaddumi, the Palestine Liberation Organization's political chief, said in Cairo on his way to the conference. Belittling the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust is a typical example of modern anti-Semitism.

If that were not enough, Mr. Qaddumi also called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "racist and fascist" and Israel a "racist state." The point of such jibes is not just to attack Israel's behaviour but to question its very existence. If Israel is inherently racist, as its Arab critics say, then it has no right to exist. The aim is to delegimitize Israel in the eyes of the world.

As Martin Luther King put it in 1968, "anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic and ever will be so. . . . It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against the Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism."

When the UN General Assembly voted in 1975 to declare that Zionism was racism, it marked an attempt by the Soviet Union and its Third World allies to discredit Israel and deal a blow to its great ally, the United States. It was a low point for the UN, and its reversal years later was a relief not just for Israel but for everyone who values the world organization. To see it rear its head again in Durban, even in a different form, is disturbing.

Draft language for the conference, which is still being fought over, called Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip a "crime against humanity" and revived the charge that Zionism is a "movement which is based on racial superiority."

The hypocrisy is staggering. Every day of the week, the media in the occupied territories incite Palestinians to despise Jews and work for the destruction of Israel. Suicide bombers who blow themselves up in the streets of Jerusalem are lionized as glorious martyrs. Meanwhile, Palestinian schools peddle the most loathsome slurs against Israelis and Jews in general. Holocaust denial is commonplace. "Six million Jews dead?" sniffed the mufti of Jerusalem, the city's senior Islamic leader, last year. "No way, they were much fewer. Let's stop this fairy tale."

That sort of thing is unacceptable in any context. But to see it echoed by delegates to a United Nations conference that was supposed to combat racism, not promote it, is especially discouraging. If the UN is to have any credibility, it must not let itself be used as a platform for peddlers of hate. Nor must it be seen to single out any one nation for abuse. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict, the Durban conference was not meant to be about that. It was meant to be about fighting racism.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has cancelled his planned visit to Durban. Yesterday Foreign Minister John Manley did the same, sending Multiculturalism Minister Hedy Fry in his place. It was the right thing to do. The attacks on Israelis and on Jews in Durban show how this conference has been hijacked by foes of Israel. A meeting that was supposed to attack racism has instead become a vehicle for it. Canada's Foreign Minister has no place there.