Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Racist Racism Conference

Watching the pictures from the UN's racism conference, two things immediately struck me.

One: The complete lack of any kind of authority of the United Nations.

Two: Saying anything remotely critical about Israeli policy towards Palestinians will inevitably incur the wrath of the world's diplomats.

Don't get me wrong, Iranian President Ahmadinejad's speech was deplorable in the extreme, and those in attendence were absolutely right in walking out. But there are several things I take issue with.

Firstly, I'm all for democracy and allowing people to say what they think (which is why I disagree with boycotting hustings with the BNP - its far better to let them air their ridiculous views and shout them down) but I'd suggest that the UN should not have allowed Ahmadinejad to take the stage and preach his hatred. The UN is not the forum to attack other nations and they took their eye off the ball with this one. Ahmadinejad was always going to attack Israel from the podium there - as much for the headlines it would make as for making the point itself. Even Ban Ki-moon's statement after the event couldn't repair the damage done.

Secondly, and this may sound hypocritical given all I said in the previous paragraph, but I do hate the way that whenever you say something critical of Israel you are automatically branded as anti-semitic. Again, I don't want you to confuse this for condoning Ahmadinejad's speech. But if the UN were worth anything they'd be looking a little more closely at the sentiments expressed by the Iranian President.

Does Israel treat Palestinians badly? Yes they do. Are they effectively segregated on grounds of their "nationality" and/or religion? Yes they are. If this happened elsewhere, would it be tolerated? No it would not. But Israel is allowed to continue to act in this way as a means of "defence" because of powerful friends (the US) and past injustices against Jews. And I get it, I really do. Israel is the only place on the planet that Jews do not feel persecuted (not the same as feeling safe, but that's another issue) and the Jewish diaspora - including a fairly influential Jewish lobby in Washington - help to protect Israel from international condemnation. But sometimes - like with the Gaza situation - Israel goes too far. And that is when the UN should be acting.

It seems to me that a conference on racism should be exploring all issues and not just the ones that appeal to the west. While Ahmadinejad's speech was overly vitriolic in its tone, he did raise some issues that the UN needs to address. Top of that list - why Israel can get away with actions they'd balk at elsewhere.


CrazyDaisy 21 April 2009 at 17:11  


A chocolate fireguard is as much use as the UN.

I think we may have to fight for our Independence yet, hmmmmmmm.


Indy 21 April 2009 at 18:32  

I think you are buying into the Israeli Government line saying that Israel is the only place on the planet that Jews do not feel persecuted.

More Jewish people live in New York City than live in Israel and they don't feel persecuted. I doubt if the somewhat smaller number of Jewish people living in Newton Mearns feel particularly persecuted either. (Except perhaps by Jim Murphy desperately trying to get re-elected).

We should never equate 'Jewish' with 'Israeli'. It is by doing that that people cross the line into anti-semitism, either intentionally or unintentionally.

We should also never forget that there are many Israeli citizens who are completely opposed to their Government's policies, some of them currently serving long terms in jail because of it.

The coflict in Israel/Palestine is political, it is not religious though, as with Northern Ireland, the two sides generally share the same religion. But the conflict in Northern Ireland was not between Catholics and Protestants. It was between republicans and loyalists. That conflict seemed at one point as intractable as the Israeli/Palestine conflict until common sense prevailed. So I guess there is hope though it doesn't often seem like it.

Malc 21 April 2009 at 18:53  


Shamefully, I was quoting The West Wing with that comment. And I think the line was more like "Israel is the only place on the planet that it's okay to be Jewish" but I didn't really want to say that.

The point is not whether Israeli (or global Jews for that matter - though I don't want to conflate the two) citizens support the actions of the state. It is that those actions would be unacceptable elsewhere (and indeed, as you point out, some within Israel cannot stomach these policies) so why is the UN standing by and allowing Israel to act how it likes?

Two reasons: the power of the US and the toothlessness of the UN.

James 21 April 2009 at 19:04  

UN authority failure. Agreed.
BNP? get on the platform with them and argue the case. Agreed.
Dragging the Holocaust into modern Middle East politics = stupid & wrong. Agreed.
Equating opposition to Israel with anti-semitism = also wrong. Agreed.

Motion seconded. Dammit Malc, that doesn't happen very often.

Malc 21 April 2009 at 19:50  

I'll try not to do it again James.

ASwaS 22 April 2009 at 09:49  

Malc and James - brought together by Israel-Palestine.

Who says it's only about irreconcilable division?

James 22 April 2009 at 10:03  

ASwaS, first you're commenting, then you're blogging again, right?

It would be most welcome..

Sam 22 April 2009 at 13:38  

UN authority failure? What do you think the UN is?

Its a forum for countries to express their views, and work together towards peace & security. Its run by the Secretariat (civil servants) and the ambassadors of the represented countries.

So you want them to ban Ahmadinejad from speaking? So who gets to decide that? The civil servants? Then you'll be moaning about democracy deficits and the abuse of the right to free speech.

On which point, you "disagree with boycotting hustings with the BNP - its far better to let them air their ridiculous views and shout them down". So why should the West's diplomats walk out? Clearly they should have stayed there & denounced his views.

Actually the best response would have been for Obama, Brown, Sarkozy et al to go to the same podium & denounce those views personally. Would have garnered far more headlines than Ahmadinejad did on his own.

You (& your commenters) are being incredibly hypocritical. You say, bravely and correctly in my opinion, that critics of Israel are unfairly labelled anti-semitic. And certainly this was an over the top speech with little substance. But we in the West uphold the right to say these things in our own countries (with one obvious exception). So why shouldn't Ahmadinejad be allowed to say it?

Especially when large parts of the world outside the West agrees with him. Isn't that "democracy and allowing people to say what they think"?

Malc 22 April 2009 at 13:54  


I'm with you to a point - and I think I made the point myself that it might sound hypocritical to argue both for the right to say what you want and for the UN not to allow the Iranian President a platform. I might not have made the point that well, let me try again.

I don't think he should have been banned from speaking but at the very least I think he should have been asked to be a bit less... forceful. The conference wasn't about picking fights it was about trying to find peace between races.

What Ahmadinejad was doing (at base level) was using an international conference on racism to attack another country's government as racist. Which, I suppose is what it was - to discuss countries' views on racism and work towards solutions.

Except for two things. 1) As "a forum for countries to express their views, and work together towards peace & security" as you so eloquently put it, the UN has no authority to change anything about racism. 2) Ahmadinejad's speech wasn't for the conference - it was for a domestic audience, to frenzy opinion both within Iran and the rest of the Middle East into an anti-Israel (and essentially anti-Jew) mindset.

And you are probably right that Western leaders' responses. Except for the fact that the West is already (in certain parts of the Middle East) public enemy number one, and denouncing an Iranian leader at an international conference might not exactly help in the region.

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