Sunday, April 26, 2009

Controlling the Terminology

"If you can control the terminology of the debate, you can win the debate." Mark Regev, Israeli prime minister's spokesman for international media, in PM spokesman: Naming Gaza op 'Cast Lead' was a PR mistake, Cnaan Lipshiz, Haaretz, 24/4/09.

To understand the virulent Zionist campaign directed against the just-concluded Anti-Racism Review Conference (Durban II), it is first necessary to acquaint oneself with the language used in the 'debate' over Palestine/Israel at The World Conference Against Racism (Durban I) of 2001.

The initial text contained 6 paragraphs dealing with "Zionist racist practices," including an appeal for Israel "to revise its legislation based on racial or religious discrimination such as the law of return and all the policies of an occupying power which prevents the Palestinian refugees and displaced persons from returning to their homes and properties," and a suggestion for the need "to bring the foreign occupation of Jerusalem by Israel, together with all its racist practices to an end." Draft documents had referred to the "increase of racist practices of Zionism and anti-Semitism" and "movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas, in particular the Zionist movement, which is based on racial superiority." To sum up, Israel was correctly fingered as a state which practices racism.

However, after an American and Israeli walkout - and the possiblity of same by Canada and EU countries - the final text was rewritten by conference officials to remove the 'offending' language. (A parallel, but separate, NGO Forum, to its credit, did in fact produce a document describing Israel as a "racist, apartheid state.")

This final text (the Durban Declaration & Program of Action (DDPA), with its bland references to the "plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation" and their right to "an independent state," became the focal point for the campaign to boycott Durban II because, despite all references to the Palestine/Israel conflict eventually being dropped from the Durban II draft text, it still reaffirmed the earlier DDPA of Durban I. And so, for no other reason than that of eliminating the DDPA's tokenism, an attempt was made to scuttle the Durban II conference, with Israel (and its overseas lobby groups) orchestrating a boycott by fellow colonial-settler states, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, aided and abetted by former colonial states such as Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. The phony nature of this campaign to control the terminology of the 'debate' was highlighted by Navi Pillay, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her final address to the conference:

"I had to face a widespread and highly organized campaign of disinformation. Many people, including Ministers with whom I spoke, told me that the Durban Declaration & Programme of Action (DDPA), which... was agreed by 189 states at the original World Conference Against Racism in 2001, was anti-Semitic, and it was clear that they had either not bothered to read what it actually said, or they were putting a cast on it that was, to say the least, decidedly exaggerated. Many others have labelled the entire Durban process a 'hate fest'... [T]his is hyperbole... a gross exaggeration. But it is everywhere on the Internet. And, I'm sorry to say, in many mainline newspapers, who, incidentally, declined many op-eds that I sent to them... If people actually read the DDPA, they would have realised that it includes a paragraph which says that 'the Holocaust should never be forgotten'. It includes two paragraphs that denounce 'anti-Semitism and Islamophobia', one paragraph which mentions the suffering of the Palestinians, their right of self-determination and the security of all states, including Israel, and two paragraphs calling for peace. That's all there is on the Middle East. And I could not get these corrections published in some important newspapers, particularly in the US, who used the word 'hate fest' without checking these paragraphs... Because of this campaign that was so determined to kill the conference, some countries decided to boycott it, although a few days earlier they had actually agreed on what is now the final text. I consider this bizarre. You agree on the text on Friday evening, and walk out on Sunday..."

The repeal, in 1991, of General Assembly Resolution 3379 (1975) equating Zionism with racism ("Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination"), following a successful number-crunching campaign by the Bush I and Israeli governments, was an important, initial step in Israel's efforts to gain control over the terminology of the 'debate'. Thirty-four years later, it seems that for the UN to so much as hint that Palestinians are living under "foreign occupation" is enough to trigger the kind of "bizarre" spectacle referred to by Navi Pillay.


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