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Conference promoting tolerance has little for Jews and Israel

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 2, 2001

Those who think the much-touted International Criminal Court could only serve as a source for goodness and light should take a look at the way the current U.N. Conference against Racism has been hijacked by parochial political interests looking to further isolate Israel.

While few could quibble with the good intentions behind an effort to bring the world together to discuss the universal problem of racism and intolerance, the U.N. conference currently under way in Durban, South Africa has been more newsworthy because of its divisions. Arab states have been pushing for the conference agenda to include provisions equating Zionism with racism and comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians with ethnic cleansing. This and another agenda item calling for slavery reparations were deal-breakers for the United States, which has kept high-level officials from the meeting in protest.

Critics say international meetings like these give undue and disproportionate influence to the world's poorest, most backward and least democratic nations. "The purpose of these issues is not to better the world or eliminate racism," says Michael Scardaville, U.N. policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. "One is an attempt by Arab states to demonize Israel and the other is a blatant effort by African nations and extreme civil rights non-governmental organizations to get money."

To be against Zionism is to be against the existence of Israel. Zionism was a movement for a Jewish state in Palestine that began in earnest in the late 1800s, in the shadows of Russian pogroms, and, after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, led to the creation of Israel in 1948.

Arab leaders insist that Zionism is a criminal policy based on racial superiority and have used this argument in international forums to try and delegitimize the Israeli government. In 1975, joined by Soviet-bloc countries, they successfully got the United Nations to go along. A resolution was passed equating Zionism with racism, which was only repealed in 1991 at the behest of the then-President George Bush in the wake of the Persian Gulf War.

Now those ugly sentiments, a code for anti-Semitism and the destruction of Israel, are back.

The draft declaration at the Durban conference includes multiple statements, still under negotiation, that would express concern over the "racist practices of Zionism." There have also been calls to strip the document, which goes on for pages about the mistreatment of African peoples and the growing problem of "Islamophobia," of any mention of anti-Semitism. How can an international document purporting to address the ills of racism be credible if it is infused with hostility toward the Jews and Israel? It can't.

And while the resulting document to come out of Durban will have no binding effect -- it will not be a treaty -- it is a warning salvo against giving world bodies the power to define and enforce "human rights."

This is why we should be worried about the establishment of an International Criminal Court, a judicial body that once ratified by 60 nations will claim worldwide jurisdiction over all countries, whether they have agreed to recognize the court's authority or not. (So far 37 nations have ratified the court and many more are close to doing so.)

The idea is the darling of do-gooders in Western Europe and is being pushed as a kind of permanent Nuremberg tribunal that would prosecute war criminals wherever they may hide. But the resulting institution could easily be manipulated to advance a political agenda.

In fact, courts with an international reach have already been enlisted to menace Israel. In a recent suit filed in Belgium, Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, has been accused of war crimes for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon.

With a staff of permanent prosecutors trawling the world for war criminals, the ICC will operate with little restraint and oversight. It will have a nearly unfettered capacity to investigate crimes and bring charges. No country's sovereignty will be respected if the ICC believes it is harboring a war criminal.

According to the treaty creating the ICC, the ratifying nations would police the body through annual meetings. That means every nation-participant has the same level of input, regardless of its size, advancement, commitment to civil liberties or conception of rights.

It is easy to see how the court could become a tool for international mischief. At least the U.S. vote on the U.N. Security Council is a means of blocking hostile actions toward Israel, but the United States will have no such power on the ICC and probably will not even be a ratifying nation. President Clinton signed the treaty to create the ICC only as a means to keep the United States involved in its refinement, and there is virtually no chance Congress will ratify it.

Regardless of U.S. actions, the court is likely to be a reality soon.

It is somewhat ironic that an institution promoted as a positive force for justice similar to the Nuremberg tribunal could very well become just another international venue used for the denouncement and persecution of Jews and the nation that shelters them.

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