Friday, 25 July 2008

Durban redux? Vitriol may follow Israel to Geneva

The European Commission's very European idea of fighting anti-Semitism at the forthcoming Durban II conference. The JTA has the facts:

"While it's too early to tell which groups hostile to Israel will show up at the follow-up conference to Durban, at least two hint at what treatment awaits the Jewish state in Geneva.

At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, the rabid activism of numerous anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, virtually drowned out much of the world's other ills.

Last month in Brazil, at the first regional meeting to determine the substance of next year's conference, one group hinted at what to expect. (…)

It's too soon to know which funding agencies will help send NGOs such as BADIL and the Wall Campaign to Geneva, but one watchdog suggests European money will likely be involved.

"European aid agencies give tens of millions of euros per year to very political, in some cases radical, anti-Israel NGOs, and these groups are the most active in the Durban process," said Gerald Steinberg, the executive director of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, which recently detailed these links in its report "Europe's Hidden Hand".

"There are many officials in those agencies who come from an anti-colonialist, anti-American, anti-Israel political ideology," Steinberg said, "and they have almost no supervision, almost no open discussions in their parliaments over these budgets."

European Union officials told JTA that none of its grants are explicitly for NGOs to attend conferences, like the Durban follow-up, but rather are directed toward specific projects.

Beyond the Durban process, the EU officials say a grantee's words - like branding Israel as apartheid or endorsing boycotts - are the "sole responsibility" of the grantee and do not reflect EU positions.

Brussels "cannot be held responsible" for these statements, nor can it "oblige them to refrain" from making them, said David Kriss, a spokesman for the European Commission delegation to Israel.

"The Commission is respectful of freedom of expression as a key feature of a democratic society," Kriss wrote in an e-mail from his office in Ramat Gan, Israel. "An open debate over political issues is indispensable on the way towards better mutual understanding.

"At the same time, the Commission is firmly committed to the fight against incitement to hatred between ethnic or religious groups as well as to the expressions of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, and will continue fighting these deplorable phenomena.""

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