Friday, January 9, 2009
On January 20, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America in front of a record crowd of well-wishers. Between two and four million people, according to some estimates, are preparing to brave the wintery Washington cold to witness the ascension of the first African-American to the highest office in the land.
The euphoria of this unarguably historic moment, however, will no doubt be tempered by the scale of the challenges facing the new president as he enters the Oval Office to start work the following day. Aside from a deepening global recession and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama will inherit the seemingly inevitable threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, rising tensions between India and Pakistan and an explosive stalemate between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Yet buried under the pile of intelligence reports, fiscal projections and stimulus measures awaiting early consideration on the president’s desk will be an innocuously worded invitation to the second global summit on racism to be held in the Swiss city of Geneva this coming April.
For a man like Obama who genuinely embodies the ability of the American people to transcend the past sins of segregation and slavery, a United Nations conference against discrimination and intolerance should represent a unique and timely opportunity to project US influence on the world stage. Furthermore it appears to offer the Obama administration an early chance to live up to the campaign promise to "repair" the nation’s damaged image abroad... If only.
Instead the Geneva summit is destined to be a repeat of the first ever World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001, on the eve of the 9/11 terror attacks and described by the late US Congressman Tom Lantos as “the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for the Jews I had seen since the Nazi period.” Lantos should know; he was a member of the US delegation that travelled with former Secretary of State Colin Powell only to walk out in protest half way through. He was also a Holocaust survivor.
Now the same state actors that singled Israel out for condemnation as an apartheid state at Durban while whitewashing the Arab-instigated genocide against the black Muslims and Christians of Sudan, have raised the stakes even higher for the so-called Durban Review Conference in Geneva. These include Libya, chair of the UN’s Human Rights Council that is running the get-together and vice-chairs Cuba and Iran. On the table is a proposal to further vilify Jewish right to self-determination and end the "foreign occupation" of Jerusalem. What’s more the Durban II draft documents call for new rules on defamation of Islam "in private life" a direct assault on Western freedom of expression - and condemnation of discriminatory “counter-terrorism” measures that, according to the organizers, are fuelling "Islamophobia."
The Bush administration has seen this coming, taking a strong stance against the summit from the beginning, refusing to participate in the preliminary sessions and voting against the entire UN budget based upon its objection to the allocation of US funds to the Durban process. Even Hillary Clinton, who as Obama’s Secretary of State would have a crucial role in determining the US response, is on the record back in February 2008 supporting the Bush policy of boycotting the conference unless "current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail."
All this presents a keen dilemma for President Obama who, after all, defeated Clinton for the Democratic nomination on a platform of working constructively with international organizations like the UN, and upgrading US diplomatic outreach to friend and foe alike. The odds may be stacked against American interests in Geneva, but what does it say about the new administration if it not even willing to show up?
One thing is certain, the ICEJ will be there. Led by a coalition of our Swiss, German and Austrian branches, European Christians will be protesting the summit on the streets of Geneva, raising our voices against the brazen hatred and anti-Semitism that now masquerades on the world stage as a debate on racism and tolerance. What’s more, we’re launching a campaign here in the United States to coincide with the January 20th Inauguration, to remind our new president, Barack Obama, of his responsibility to stand up for truth and boycott Durban II.
USA Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
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