Another Obama Disappointment

By Joharah Baker 

Today, April 20, the United Nations’ global conference on racism opens in Geneva. There will be a few empty seats though, namely those reserved for the United States, Israel, Canada, Italy, Holland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

The United States, the obvious ringleader of the West has been mulling over whether to attend or not, with many of its sidekicks waiting for their cue. Israel of course, announced it would not attend from day one along with Canada and Italy.

At this point, I think everyone has guessed what is going on. The UN conference is the second one of its type, the first being the infamous Durban Conference in 2001 in the South African city during which the US and Israel walked out in protest. No surprises as to why. The pair’s feathers got ruffled when a draft resolution midway through the conference likened Zionism to racism.

How dare they? I mean, how could the "only democracy in the Middle East" be likened to racism? Let’s just disregard the fact that it has maintained an illegal, oppressive military occupation over Palestinian territories for the past 40-some years and has delegated Palestinians there to third class citizens for all practical purposes. Even Palestinians inside Israel are treated as second-class citizens because they, unlike the movement that founded Israel, are not Jewish.

Anyway, the last conference was during the Bush – that’s George W. Bush – administration, so anything short of a boycott in the name of Israel would have been out of character. Today, the situation in the United States is supposedly different. The world’s superpower is led now by Barack Obama, a man who espouses openness, inclusiveness and diversity. This time around, the Obama administration did not immediately announce its boycott of the conference but said it would "reconsider attendance" if the document to be adopted by the conference were revised – i.e. if all references to Israel as a racist state were dropped.

The subsequent changes to the document by the conference’s preparatory committee fulfilled just that. No references to Israel or the Palestinians were made. This, however, was apparently not enough for Obama, who said "references" in the Durban I conference had not been "negated."

The document from the 2001 summit, he said, was unacceptable because "folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive."

It’s funny that Obama would use the word hypocritical because this whole situation seems the epitome of hypocrisy. What is so sacred about Israel that not even a pinch of criticism can be thrown its way? Now, not only is the US boycotting the conference, Israel is sending a delegation to Geneva to officially protest the gathering, on of its keynote speakers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad and any possible criticisms that might be made of Israel as they come up.

I find this entire situation extremely frustrating. Not that we have not grown accustomed to the staunch and blind support Israel receives especially from the United States. On the contrary, we have come to expect it. That is, until President Obama was sworn into office. Perhaps against our better judgment, we hoped that finally the United States would have a leader that could make a real change, especially where we were concerned.

But like all hopes that have been raised on false pretenses, they come crashing down around us. Perhaps it was wrong to expect too much from Barack Obama, or perhaps he is not all we hoped he would be. The bottom line is that, despite the bending over backwards for Israel – some even accused Arabs and Palestinians who accepted the revised declaration of kowtowing to US and Israeli pressures – the US still opted for the boycott instead of daring any criticism of its best Middle East friend.

"I am shocked and deeply disappointed by the United States decision not to attend a conference that aims to combat racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance worldwide," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement on April 19. Apparently, it is not just us.

The problem with situations like this is that either you criticize all or criticize none. I sincerely doubt any western country will have a problem if there is "Iran-bashing" at the conference. It would be fine to point out for the sake of rectification problems in Iran, in the United States, in Palestine or in Israel as long as one country does not get preferential treatment over another. In this case, Israel. Because, unlike Apartheid South Africa that openly demonstrated racism and discrimination, Israel claims it is a democracy, a protector of human rights and a defender of freedom. In that case, we must add hypocrisy to Israel’s list of vices because to the Palestinians Israel is an occupying power, one that’s purpose is to oppress, humiliate and subjugate. To us, Israel is not a democracy, and if it protects human rights, they are certainly not ours.

In any case, it is disappointing to see Obama bend to Israeli pressures and those of the Jewish lobby. What is even more disappointing is the fact this is most likely a foreshadowing of more disappointments to come.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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