The growing controversy over a $21-million United Nations conference on racism has become yet another example that makes you wonder how valuable the UN actually is as an institution -- and whether Canada should continue to pay into it.
The much-ballyhooed conference slated for August and September in South Africa, is grandly titled the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Rather than a legitimate discussion of a serious issue, it seems, the Asian. African, Latin American and Caribbean countyries have decided to use the occasion to accuse Israel of racism and demand untold millions in compensation from the Americas for the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries.
They also want to bring back that old anti-Israel canard that argues that Zionism, by definition, is racist.
Not that Israel and the west have a perfect history in the field of racism, of course. But then, who does? After all, while it's legitimate to decry the transatlantic slave trade, many Africans and Asian tribes themselves practised slavery -- and did North American Indian tribes -- and in some states even today, race-based slavery and murder is still rampant.
If the point is to look at where we are on the subject and move on, then that's probably worthwhile. If it is just to point fingers and do the ideological anti-west rant, there is no point in attending, at least not for Israel and the western countries, including Canada.
Yet a story in the National Post tells us that these countries have flatly rejected a draft UN "plan of action" and instead substituted their own politicized plan to attack Israel and the west.
This is clearly not a helpful thing, so much so the newly installed Bush administration has told Mary Robinson, the UN's chief human rights official, it does not want slavery to dominate the agenda and if it does, the U.S. might not attend.
Canada, typically, is trying to worm around in the middle somewhere.
Francois Lasalle, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department, said: "We oppose attempts to equate Zionism as racism, but haven't yet decided if we'll attend should this debate be on the agenda."
On the subject of intolerance, incidentally, Human Rights Watch points out India, the world's biggest democracy -- and among those pointing the finger at the west -- is trying hard to exclude any discussion of its caste-based discrimination at the conference.
Why discuss a system that blatantly discriminates against 240 million of your own people, when you can cast stones at somebody else for his historical wrongs?
Just to show you where the Asian group stands on the issue of "intolerance," they wouldn't allow Australia and New Zealand to join their grouping, forcing them instead of join [sic} with the European -- and, dare we say it, predominately white group -- thousands of kilometers away.
And at the Asian regional conference in Tehran -- another hotbed of tolerance and understanding, wouldn't you say? -- the Iranian government barred both the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Baha'i faith representatives, both of whom had been approved by the UN and both of whom know something about being the victim of racism.
Ruth Klein, national director of the Institute for International Affairs with B'Nai Brith Canada, told the Post: "That's the essence of racism. If this is a taste of what will emerge from South Africa, the conference is in trouble."
And if this is the case, if all these countries -- so many of them under the thumb of tinpot tyrants and assorted military dictators -- get to use the occasion to propagate their own historical anti-Israel and anti-western hatreds, then why should Canada be part of it?
If, as Robinson hopes, the conference can become a true international forum "to identify consensus building blocks that would enable the international community to go forward together united in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," it's probably worth holding.
But if, as appears more likely than not at this point, it's just another platform to blame Israel and the west for all the troubles of the world -- while demanding gobs of western money for "compensation" -- then the best thing to do is to allow the assorted hatemongers to have a conversation among themselves.
Who needs it, eh?
Claire Hoy is a Toronto-based writer.
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