- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

Mary Robinson, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, declares that the U.N.s "World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other Forms of Intolerance" could be among"the most significant gatherings at the start of this century."Significant, perhaps but helpful only if it sticks to fighting racism in its most pernicious forms.

Mrs. Robinson herself will be secretary-general of the conference, to beheld in Durban, South Africa, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7. Unfortunately, attempts to politicize the gathering and bias its outcome by soft-pedaling the most enduring form of murderous intolerance anti-Semitism already have been made. Only strenuous efforts by Jewish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ensured that preparatory conferences in Santiago, Chile, and Strasbourg, France, made anti-Jewish prejudice a principle agenda item.

Such groups, other human rights organizations, and Israeli representatives were absent at a third preparatory conference in Tehran. Delegates adopted a resolution accusing Israel of "racist" laws and "genocidal" behavior. That Iran is hardly a model of freedom and equality mattered not.

At other recent U.N. human rights sessions, participants have labeled Jewish villages and towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the worst type of "war crime" and claimed that Israel action against Palestinian Arab violence amounted to "anti-Semitic genocide." Such vitriol must be exposed and rejected at Durban.

Let us be clear: United Nations´ efforts to counter racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance globally, as conference organizers intend, would be fatally compromised by minimizing the evil and unacceptability of anti-Semitism. The venom and hypocrisy revealed in Tehran and elsewhere must be recognized and rejected.

The United Nations itself arose in part from the knowledge by victorious World War II Allies that hatred such as anti-Semitism, which fueled Nazi ideology and sparked the Holocaust of European Jewry, must not be permitted to ensnare mankind in future conflict. Yet there are those today extremist Islamic movements, ultranationalist parties in and out of various European parliaments, and neo-Nazi groups scattered across the planet for whom anti-Semitism is part of their ideology, their propaganda, their often deadly plans.

Some in the Arab world claim they cannot be anti-Semitic since they too are "Semites." But the very term anti-Semitism was coined in 19th-century Germany by Jew-haters who wanted to make their obsession sound scientific. It has no other meaning.

Representatives of some Islamic groups are seeking to put "Islamophobia" on the conference agenda. Certainly, when Muslims are persecuted because they are Muslims, all people of good will must resist. But discussions of real anti-Muslim bigotry must not be permitted to deflect attention from anti-Semitism. Racism and xenophobia must be countered in whatever forms they take. So we return to anti-Semitism and the Durban conference. We anticipate efforts to minimize discussions of hatred of Judaism and of the Jewish people. Those involved likely will try to use the U.N. conference to attack Israel, to label it a "racist" state as they did at the preparatory conference in Iran. They will paint Israel´s struggle to protect its people against terror and violence as "criminal."

Nothing new here. In the 1970s and ´80s, many international fora were hijacked by Soviet and Arab bloc countries for anti-Zionist propaganda and anti-Semitism repackaged as anti-Zionism. The dozen or more Web sites advocating re-introduction of the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism use new technology to echo that old propaganda.

It took the U.N. until 1991 to repeal the Zionism-is-racism obscenity. But some never accepted repeal. They include the Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria, as demonstrated last year by their attempted denial of NGO status at the U.N. for Hadassah, the health-care-oriented international women´s Zionist group.

Those serious about fighting racism and other forms of intolerance must prevent the U.N.´s Durban conference from being hijacked the way the U.N. General Assembly was in 1975. The Jewish people long have been recognized as society´s equivalent of the miner´s canary. We frequently have been the first but not the last to suffer when toxic religious, ethnic, and racial hatreds infect civic life.

Anti-Semitism represents the poison of group hatred in its classic form. Efforts at Durban to marginalize it by subsuming it in the "other forms of intolerance" category or to displace it by attacks on Israel must be defeated. The protection of human rights for all minorities, and preservation of the U.N.´s own good name demand it.

Richard D. Heideman is international president of Bnai Brith. Daniel S. Mariaschin is the groups executive vice president.

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