It's anti-Zionism that is racist

Here's a question for you: what do the cities of New York, Durban and St Andrews (technically a royal burgh, but please indulge me just this once) have in common? Answer: they're all places where anti-Zionism and antisemitism coalesce.

They are all places, in other words, where the deeds and misdeeds of anti-Zionists have revealed themselves to be little (if anything) more than a cover for a much deeper, darker prejudice.

It was in the city of Durban, South Africa, 10 years ago, that a hilariously misnamed World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held under the auspices of the United Nations.

In fact, the gathering was largely taken up (inevitably) with a well-rehearsed invective against Israel, for a miscellany of Muslim states had made no secret of their intention to use the gathering to re-energise their campaign to have Zionism branded as a racist ideology and Israel categorised as a racist state.

Will the Foreign Office heed the lesson of St Andrews?

That the final Declaration did not contain such defamations was due - in the main - to pressure from Canada and the USA, both of which (together with Israel) walked out of the proceedings. But not the United Kingdom.

The Durban Conference reconvened in Geneva eight years later. On that occasion Iranian President Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in which he opined that the Holocaust was an "ambiguous and dubious question" and bemoaned the re-establishment of a Jewish state, which he described as "totally racist".

Delegates from the European Union (it's true) walked out. Nine countries (including Israel, the USA, and Canada) had previously announced that they would boycott the conference, which they did.

But not the United Kingdom.

In three weeks' time the Durban hatefest will meet again, this time in the city of New York. It will come to order just two days after the much-trum
peted initiative by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to obtain the endorsement of the UN's General Assembly for his promised declaration of Palestinian statehood.

The proximity of the two events -the Durban process and the General Assembly meeting - is no coincidence: the sponsors of Durban hope for a better turnout in 2011 than in 2009. But the intention is just the same.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the venomous charade of the Durban process, we need to ask why the General Assembly is permitting itself (willingly, I might add, if not enthusiastically) to be bothered -now - with Palestinian ambitions for statehood. After all, it is not within the powers of the General Assembly to create states and, in any case, I seem to remember that a second Palestinian state (the first being Jordan, of course) had been proclaimed by the late Mr Arafat in the fair city of Algiers as long ago as 1988. And even if (as seems inevitable) the General Assembly endorses this re-proclamation the pundits tell me that in the Security Council it will be vetoed by the USA.

On July 18, in the course of a personal meeting, I asked Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt whether the UK would follow suit. He assured me that Her Majesty's government had neither ruled it out nor ruled it in. Well, I am not holding my breath, and neither should you.

But I know - and I suspect that Mr Burt knows - that nothing Mahmoud Abbas can do, even with General Assembly endorsement, can change realities on the ground. Indeed I suspect that Mr Abbas knows this too.

I suspect, rather, that what he and his entourage have in mind is the opportunity that a debate and vote in the General Assembly will bring to further denounce and delegitimise the Jewish state. I suspect – in other words - that what we shall be treated to in the General Assembly will be an international rant themed around the racialised defamation of Zionism.

And so we come to the Royal Burgh of St Andrews, and the hefty blow against that defamation that was struck, in that Royal Burgh, by Sheriff Charles Macnair. Last March a St Andrews university student carried out a vulgar desecration of an Israeli flag that he had come upon in the room of a fellow student who happened to be Jewish. Last month Sheriff Macnair judged such a desecration to have amounted to a racially aggravated attack.

It's not Zionism that is racist, but anti-Zionism. That was the lesson delivered in the Royal Burgh of St Andrews. Let us hope that the message carries, via the Foreign Office in London, to the City of New York.

    Last updated: 10:56am, September 2 2011