Monday, April 20, 2009


Okay, so I'm a little slow on getting to this, and a little confused now that I have.

So there is this conference that the UN put together, The Durban Review Conference, that is meeting next week to asses the progress from the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Apparently, the US and Israel walked out of the last one because of the focus on the plight of Palestinian refugees and the suggestion that their treatment was rooted in racism. Depending on who you talk to, they either considered such a suggestion to be anti-Semitic, they felt that Zionism was being conflated with racism, or Zionism was being conflated with racism and they felt that this was anti-Semitic and anti-religion. Frankly, I have no fucking clue what actually happened, because I can't find an account that isn't built on press releases from either country, so I'm not going to assume that any one of those is exactly the reason why.

Anyway, fast forward to February of this year. The Obama administration seemed to be ready to boycott this year's meeting for the same reason, again with the suggestion that the conference was anti-Semitic.

They reconsidered the boycott, and then went with it anyway.

The biggest issue, at least from an Israeli perspective, is the participation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, who has publicly denied the Holocaust before, as well as the participation of oil-producing Arab states who supposedly used the last conference to bash Israel and Zionism. This alleged bashing (and I say alleged because I have yet to see anything more concrete than one side or the other making accusations after the fact) is being held up as an example of why some of the most powerful countries in the world are refusing to participate even after they negotiated to have any references to Israel and Palestine taken off the table.

The UN Human Rights chief has criticized these countries for putting politics over the needs of marginalized people. I think I have to agree. I don't see this boycott as helpful in any way. The only thing it may achieve is solidifying the assumption that I encountered during my time in the Middle East, that Israel controls all the large governments and power in the world. It reinforces this feeling of being oppressed by Israel that many countries seem to have. It also removes the opportunity to help create a framework that will help solve so many problems beyond just the Israeli one.

As far as the whole "Israel's actions against Palestinians is rooted in racism" and Zionism being conflated with racism, well I would like those of you who have actually read this far to consider a few things.

One major argument for refusing a single state solution or even a solution at all to the conflict over the Palestinian territories, as well as limiting access to resources, or jobs outside the territories is the demographic argument. It can be summed up thusly: Israel was created as a Jewish state by European Jews. A one state solution would let too many of "them" in and the state would no longer be Jewish. This being said, Israel welcomes immigrants from the US and Europe who are of Jewish heritage, but has repeatedly blocked the entrance of Ethiopian Jews who have been trying to immigrate for decades. I have no sources for this, but it seems to me that Israeli officials who make these decisions see "Jew" in a particular way that excludes people who are too dark.
Anyway, my point is that there is something to a discussion of racial motivations behind the treatment of Palestinian refugees.

That being said, if Zionism was conflated with racism, that is decidedly unhelpful. Zionism has this big boogieman reputation, but in reality, it is nothing more than a political ideology that arose in response to anti-Semitism in Europe, which was rooted in racism itself. That and context cannot be ignored. "Zionism" and "Zionists" are often used as "code" words for Jews the world over. By framing an argument as anti-Zionist it is really easy to make anti-Semitic arguments and pretend that they are relevant political critique, when in actuality they are nothing more than the same eliminationist rhetoric that Jews as a culture, ethnicity and religion have been hearing for as long as we have history to track.

In the end, no one is helping. A boycott only allows those issues that are inaccurate and inflammatory to go unchecked, and also allows governments who are not completely innocent to shirk their responsibility to the larger global community. A history of being threatened does not make one completely justified in all actions and reactions. A history of being on the receiving end of reactions that come from not the nicest of ideas does not give one the right to pretend like tragedies didn't happen. Either side forgetting or ignoring the humanity of the other is going to do nothing but perpetuate the cycle of violence, misinformation and hatred.

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