The decision by the Rudd government to boycott the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban was a controversial one:
Australia remains undecided about whether it will attend a controversial United Nations conference, which begins in a fortnight.
There are fears the Durban Review Conference, to be held in Geneva from April 20-24, could become a repeat of the original South African event in 2001, which was marred by claims of anti-Semitism.
The decision was only taken at the last minute:
AUSTRALIA will not take part in a controversial United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva this week.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said the Geneva meeting reaffirms the 2001 outcomes, singling out Israel and the Middle East.
“Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views,” Mr Smith said.
Many Australian bloggers took the opposite view.
Sometimes the truth needs to be told, and it can be unpleasant and discomforting. So was President Admadinejad doing that?
Ahmadinejad is not saying anything here in these extracts that is extraordinary. Anybody who even half follows events knows what he is saying is accurate. So why all the drama?
At group blog Larvatus Prodeo, Paul Norton explained his position on the Middle East:
I support Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I am a critic of unbalanced, inflammatory and obsessive criticism of Israel. However, I am also critical of unbalanced, inflammatory and obsessive idealisation of Israel, of the kind that is rife in the polities of various Western countries including Australia and the United States.
He then addressed his concern about the boycotting countries:
One wonders how the countries participating in the Conference (including all of Africa, Russia, Asia (except for Israel), South and Central America and the Vatican) will interpret a boycott confined exclusively to the wealthy white men’s club. How might they respond to the fact that nations such as the US and Australia consider a purported slight on Israel’s good name to be of greater moment than many other issues on which agreement and cooperation is possible with countries of the global South and global East, and sufficient grounds to refuse to attend a forum to discuss such cooperation?
Jason Soon, a supprter of the boycott, began an open forum at catallaxyfiles:
… devoted solely to the recent UN talkfest which for once has made Kevin Rudd do the right thing and boycott. So fire away. A little fuel for the fire
On the other hand Gary Sauer-Thompson at Public Opinion decried the Rudd government's lack of courage:
I wasn't surprised that Australia didn't have the courage to attend the UN conference on racism (known as the Durban review) and then debate the views of those it disagreed with, namely President Ahmadinejad's interpretation of Zionist history. They just stayed away, rather than making the arguments that need to be made against Ahmadinejad and his followers.
Zionism does need to be questioned because this form of nationalism rationalizes conquest and colonization as “redemption” of Jewish territory on behalf of the world’s Jews. It treats the Palestinians only as an obstacle and threat to its own purposes, not as people with the same rights as Jews and with legitimate claim to the land on which they were born.
Dan Goldberg, national editor of the Australian Jewish News from 2002-2007, put the case against the Conference in the strongest terms at New Matilda.
The UN's conference against racism opened yesterday. But Dan Goldberg writes that the meeting is a sham which reminds him of some other low-points in the history of hate:
Remarkably, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed into the bosom of Europe at a conference intended to deal with racism. It's a perverse irony at best; an utter abomination at worst. And all this on April 20 — the anniversary of Hitler's birthday.
Unsurprisingly, the tyrant of Tehran launched his invective at the Jewish state, accusing it of being the “racist perpetrators of genocide”. The bulk of the Arab delegates applauded. The 23 representatives of the European Union walked out. On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the United Nations, which has long been a bastion for Israel-bashing, hosted a dyed-in-the-wool Holocaust denier. Ahmadinejad didn't refer to the Holocaust by name, but left little doubt of his support for a second Holocaust against “the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine”.
Author of the My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, Antony Loewenstein, is a well known and controversial commentator on the Middle East and critic of Zionism.
As a Jew who writes extensively about Israel/Palestine, I have no desire for Iran to speak for me on human rights (and my recent book, The Blogging Revolution, details the woeful record of the Islamic Republic.) But the fierce resistence to even examine the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its well documented recent abuses in Gaza is shameful. These are not actions of a civilised nation. It is the behaviour that we would condemn if done by a relatively unknown Third World nation, but Israel is seemingly untouchable.
A final word comes from the mass media. Tim Blair who blogs for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph made his opinion of Iran's President Ahmadinejad quite clear:
Civilisation declined to attend the UN’s anti-Israel festival. Other representatives left once they realised what kind of atrocity they’d blundered into.
They can’t say they weren’t warned.
The Middle East continues to divide Australians and the world.