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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2001 / 17 Elul, 5761

Michael Kelly

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Political rule of thumb: If Jesse and the Canadians disapprove, it's the right thing to do -- DELEGATIONS from around the world have been meeting in Durban, South Africa, under the auspices of the United Nations for something called the World Conference Against Racism. From such a grand title, one might expect the conference to address all racism in all nations. One might think this, that is, if one was ignorant of the track record of these U.N. conferences, which have a long new-left history of serving as forums for the ritual whacking of the United States and its allies -- above all for whacking one ally in particular: Israel.

Going into this year's conference it was clear that Israel once again would enjoy most favored nation whacking status. President Bush warned against this, and his administration underscored this warning by declining to send Secretary of State Colin Powell, opting instead for a delegation of second-tier diplomats.

The conference lived down to expectations, producing a draft resolution filled with what Powell properly called "hateful language" that singled out "only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse." Specifically, the resolution expressed the conference's "deep concern" over the "racist practices of Zionism . . . as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas, in particular the Zionist movement, which is based on racial superiority."

So Israel walked out, and so did the United States. And then, of course, came the usual chorus of carping, tut-tutting and deep regretting. Pakistan's foreign minister said he was disappointed in the U.S. action. Sweden's deputy industry minister said the United States "left the conference far too early, before the negotiations were concluded." Italy's La Stampa newspaper warned that the U.S. walkout "marks the beginning of a new Cold War." A spokesman for the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party called the Bush decision "a gross mistake." Canada's chief delegate said the pullout "undoubtedly makes the work being undertaken in Durban that much more difficult." U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the U.S. decision was "unfortunate." Jesse Jackson, the chief delegate of the delegation from Jesse Jackson, said that the United States "should negotiate a change, not withdraw and run."

This could go on forever. Actually, it has gone on forever, and it will go on forever. Which is precisely why walking out was such a good and necessary idea. This may sound like mere jingoism -- if Jesse Jackson and the Canadians disapprove, it's the right thing to do. But the case for walking is actually one on the merits. It works.

It works, first of all, in the short term. In Durban, all efforts by the polite European friends of Yasser Arafat failed dismally. Arafat himself delivered a speech -- after Jackson had boasted of his influence in moderating Arafat's views -- accusing Israel of "a supremacist mentality." The draft resolution that prompted the American and Israeli walkout represented a complete rejection of all efforts to persuade the Israel-haters to tone down the rhetoric.

Then George Bush, the impolite president (you know, my dear, he is a unilateralist) yanked the U.S. delegation home. What has been the result? For starters, the European Union nations, seeing a splendid opportunity to score off Bush and the United States, have led a drive to "salvage" the conference by forcing a return to the negotiating table and a rewriting of the resolution. If this succeeds, the Europeans will get the satisfaction of reprising the Kyoto morality play ("Noble Europeans Rescue Grateful World from Mud-Stupid U.S. President") and the conference will pass a resolution that is acceptable in basic terms of fairness and honesty. That's an okay outcome.

If the new effort fails, the conference will fall apart, the Europeans will get the satisfaction of once more denouncing the mud-stupidity of Bush, and no resolution will be passed. That's an okay outcome too. Either way, thanks to Bush's rude resolve, the immensely counterproductive resolution that had been on the table will have been killed and its supporters will have suffered a major poke in the eye.

In the long term, walking out is likewise to the good. It is not healthy for the forces of anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism to be allowed to persist in the idea that it is their proper role to whack the West, and that the West's proper role is to sit there and take the whacking. It is healthy for the United States, as the leader of the West, to occasionally remind everyone that taking a hike is an option too. An occasional reminder of reality helps against the delusions of power that cause most wars. As George Bush might put it, guns don't kill people, delusions do.

One particularly dangerous delusion held by a surprising number of people in the Middle East is that Israel will one day be forced to its knees -- and that America will let that happen. This week, in Durban, that delusion confronted reality.

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