UN Watch at the 2001 Durban Conference

UN Watch sounded the alarm throughout the lead-up to the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, and called out and confronted the hatefest as it emerged:

  • In July 2001, UN Watch sounded the alarm when Israel was targeted in a draft declaration for the Durban conference, a text produced by a committee of 21 country delegates representing all regions. Israel was the only country condemned by name in over 70 pages of text. The draft revived the “Zionism is racism” smear, trivialized the Holocaust, and removed antisemitism from the conference agenda.


  • In August 2001, after the final preparatory meeting was held in Geneva before the Durban conference, UN Watch called out the last-minute appeal by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to include language singling out Israel in the Durban draft declaration. The OIC maneuvered around the demand that “Zionism is racism” not be included in the text by proposing instead “the racist practices of Zionism.” UN Watch condemned the OIC’s disregard for the global aspect of the conference and its insistence that Israel be singled out and condemned at the World Conference Against Racism.


  • Two days before the Durban conference began, David Harris, then serving as Chair of UN Watch as well as AJC executive director, published an International Herald Tribune op-ed that foresaw the hatefest:

The concave and convex mirrors in an amusement park create a setting in which for a moment reality is overtaken by the absurd. Imagine, though, that the distortions endure.

Sitting in Geneva for the past year, immersed in the daily business of the United Nations, I often felt encased in a hall of mirrors. The run-up to the UN World Conference Against Racism, which opens on Friday in South Africa, has been a typical case of international diplomacy run amok — a well-intentioned idea hijacked by a group of nations determined to create yet another anti-Israel forum.

How is it possible that after the world’s nations agreed months ago that there would be no mention of specific countries in the conference’s final document, only one country, Israel, is referred to repeatedly and accused of a long litany of alleged wrongs?

The Arab-Israeli conflict is political and not racial in nature. How is it possible that it has been thrust upon the Durban agenda?

The conference, intended to address the blight on humanity of racism, a worldwide phenomenon, has been diverted from its purpose by the determination of a few, with the acquiescence of many, to launch a frontal attack on Israel and the Jewish people…

A world conference designed to promote tolerance threatens instead to be remembered for giving its imprimatur to the spread of bigotry.


  • UN Watch’s then executive director Andrew Srulevitch attended the NGO Forum of the Durban conference, and exposed the antisemitic hatefest at a press conference, as quoted in the Associated Press:

A watchdog group called on organizers to expel an Arab organization for distributing anti-Semitic pamphlets at a conference related to the UN conference on racism.

Pamphlets depicting Jews with fangs dripping with blood and wearing helmets inscribed with Nazi swastikas were distributed at a gathering of non-governmental organizations by the Arab Lawyers Group, said UN Watch official Andrew Srulevitch.

The NGO conference on racism is being held in advance of the UN gathering.

“Any NGO that is passing out hate literature at a world conference against racism should be kicked out,” Srulevitch said.

In wake of the event, UN Watch  produced a collection of “Hate Speech at the World Conference Against Racism,” cited in academic articles.


  • Professor Anne Bayefsky, then a board member of UN Watch, represented the organization at the official Durban intergovernmental conference, where she was a leading voice in exposing the antisemitism. Prof. Bayefsky authored one of the first major academic articles about the conference:

    The World Conference Against Racism  became a forum for racism. Human rights was used as a weapon of political interests antithetical to human rights protection. Durban challenged nongovernmental human rights organizations, permitted to be more closely connected to a world conference than ever before, and states alike, to clarity of purpose and position on fundamental principles, racism, its definition and its defeat. Jewish nongovernmental organizations, and the state of Israel as the embodiment of the self-determination of the Jewish people, would undoubtedly have preferred not to be the testing ground of their resolve. They had come to Durban to join the global effort to eradicate racism in all its forms. But they were singled out, and forced to leave as the only victims’ voices deleted, and the only state condemned.

    A. Bayefsky, “The UN World Conference Against Racism: A Racist Anti-Racism Conference,” Proceedings of the 2002 ASIL Annual Meeting, Vol. 96, 65-74.

UN Watch

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