Jewish campaigners this week lobbied internationally to stop a United Nations human rights conference being used as a platform to attack Israel.
Israel and Canada have already pulled out of April’s Geneva follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference, which turned into an anti-Zionist “hate-fest” according to critics.
But the Jewish Human Rights Coalition UK, co-founded by the Board of Deputies, was among Jewish non-governmental organisations that attended a five-day preliminary session in Geneva this week to debate a draft of the conference resolutions.
The 38-page document makes special mention of “racial discrimination” against the Palestinians and their subjection to “unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade”.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies said the JHRC-UK “is vigorously making plain its concerns, that contributions to the text from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Asian region states are attempting to again single out Israel for criticism, demonise Zionism and decry the inclusion of references to antisemitism, while also challenging the very notion of freedom of expression under the guise of outlawing defamation of religion.”
The JHRC-UK would press for other states to withdraw from the conference if negotiations proved fruitless.
Lior Herman, representing the World Jewish Congress in Geneva this week, said: “We do not want a politicisation of human rights, we are not interested in the singling out of any country.”
Although the current draft contained fewer references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than an earlier version, it was “still alarming”, he said.
“We are also very disappointed by the fact that the text on antisemitism and the Holocaust commemoration has been reduced. The European Union’s proposals were much broader — we know EU member states are concerned about this as well.”
Also of concern were “attempts to try to link defamation of religion with racism, which are completely separate issues”, he said.
“We are interested in seeing stronger words to protect free speech, as well as more protection for minorities such as the Roma people.”
The final draft might not be agreed until the actual conference. “This is the beginning of the negotiation process,” Doune Porter, conference information officer, said.
Details from the Geneva draft document
Extracts from the latest draft document for April’s “Durban review conference”
Conference affirms that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with numerous members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice; recalls again that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.
... Expresses deep concern at the practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinian people as well as other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories which have an impact on all aspects of their daily existence and prevent the enjoyment of fundamental rights.
... Reiterates that the Palestinian people have the inalienable right to self-determination and that...they have been subjected to unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction of movement and arbitrary closure.
... Also notes that illegal settlements continue to be built in the occupied territories.
Reaffirms that a foreign occupation founded on settlements, laws based on racial discrimination with the aim of continuing domination of the occupied territory, as well as the practice of reinforcing a total military blockade, isolating towns, villages and cities from one another, contradicts the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.