The bad, old United Nations reappears

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself - first as tragedy, second as farce. The United Nations is dangerously toying with that notion.

On Aug. 31, the United Nations' World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is scheduled to take place in Durban, South Africa. In the pre-conference planning, two proposed resolutions have created an uproar and prompted the Bush administration to consider boycotting the meeting.

One declaration states that Israel is "an apartheid, racist and fascist state" that is conducting a new "holocaust" against the Palestinians. Both the chair of the conference, Mary Robinson, and Amnesty International have deplored this turn of events. Robinson has observed, "If there is an attempt to revive the idea of Zionism as racism we will not have a successful conference.'

It was looking awfully reminiscent of the 1970s at the U.N., with dictators freely bashing the United States, Israel and Western Europe for historical and modern failures of democracy. But in a hopeful sign, 100 countries preparing for the conference are moving to expunge the most blatant of the offending clauses, including attempts to downgrade the Holocaust. With only Syria now said to be holding out, the chances that rational debate will prevail are increasing.

The United Nations not so long ago was an echo chamber for denunciations of wealthy democracies. One result was that the Reagan administration refused to pay the U.N. dues the United States owed.

The "Zionism is racism" resolution was finally repealed in 1991, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan has raised the tone of debate and helped remake the U.N. as a credible force for peace. This is reflected in the fact that the United States has begun to pay its arrears. What Annan has worked for would be jeopardized by the racism conference if its organizers allowed the gathering to be hijacked on the Zionism issue.

The White House is basing U.S. participation in the conference on removal of the clauses directed against Israel. Even if the racism clause is expunged, a push will probably still be made by the Arab states to condemn Israel's settlement policy as genocidal. The knowledge that the United Nations has better things to do these days than issue incendiary declarations may yet rescue the conference.

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