Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
The fact that so few people attended the opening session of what was billed as a local Durban II `Counter-Conference’ at Fordham Law School on Monday afternoon was actually a good thing, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Noting the audience of about 35 in the large auditorium, Hoenlein said the turnout was, in effect, a tribute to the hard work of his and other Jewish organizations, dating back a year and a half, in trying to convince the U.S. not to attend a re-run of the September 2001 Durban conference.
That event, you may recall, was supposed to address racism and discrimination around the world but became a rhetorical lynch mob against the U.S. and especially Israel. Shocking as it was, the full impact of its blatant and frightening display of anti-Semitism on an international scale was eclipsed and blunted by the events of 9-11, which took place two days after the conference ended.
Hoenlein said the attendance at Fordham Law was “a sign of our victory,” since the U.S. decision, announced the day before, to boycott Durban II took much of the drama out of the local conference. Had the U.S. participated in the Geneva meetings, Hoenlein said, the auditorium would be packed and there would be hundreds of demonstrators out on the streets protesting American’s involvement.
We’ll never know, but it was a masterful job of spin on Hoenlein’s part. (He did not mention the generational divide, but looking around, there could not have been more than six or seven people in the crowd under 60. Is that a good thing, too?)
Still, this week’s counter-conference, free and open to the public and sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, along with about two dozen Jewish organizations (and The Jewish Week), is a worthy effort to actually deal with the Durban II’s agenda of human rights and freedoms – minus the anti-Israel flavor underscored by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hateful rant at the opening session.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke briefly, as did a representative of Gov. Patterson, a Canadian official (Canada boycotted Durban II) and an ADL expert on Europe. But the highlight of the two-hour session – one of five such sessions to be held this week, through Friday – was a dry but insightful presentation by Richard Schifter, a former U.S. representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, on how the UN agenda became anti-West (primarily anti-U.S.) around 1970, engineered by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The only good news was that, according to Schifter, the U.S. could regain control of the UN if it took the time and effort to delve into the parliamentary machinations of the workings of the world body, as the Cubans and other anti-U.S. delegations have.
I’ll have a story on that in this week’s Jewish Week. In the meantime, you may want to attend one or more of the daily AAJLJ sessions at Fordham Law this week. For details, click here.