The combination of Israel’s consummate paranoia and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s pursuit of some grubby nationalistic agenda has done the world a great disservice, from what I can tell. If Ahmadinejad knew that his anti-Israel rant would turn the UN’s Durban Review into a circus – and surely we can credit him with a modicum of intelligence – he certainly didn’t care. But what can we do? He is, after all, the head of government of a UN member country (a founding member, no less). The UN is a forum for intergovernmental co-operation, so we can’t just shut him out of it.
Israel and the West are not absolved of blame, though. Israel, the US, Australia, and the other absentees could have chosen to make something of the forum, ignoring or condemning Ahmadinejad’s comments as appropriate, and even using them as evidence for the need to act against racism. Adhmadinejad may have destroyed the conference’s credibility, but only because Israel and the West let him have the stage to himself. The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – who probably feels betrayed by just about everyone – tried to point out the futility of boycotts and walk-outs. They say a lot about the nature of the problem that the forum was intended to address. Racism and other forms of intolerance thrive on different groups setting themselves apart from one another. They continue to exist because these groups fail to communicate, and instead of developing an understanding of each other they make silly assumptions and generalisations. The solution at every level, from individuals to nations, is dialogue. (Putting conditions on dialogue is just an excuse for not having dialogue.)
To achieve meaningful dialogue, everyone needs to be just a little less sensitive. Israel needs to stop being quite so paranoid about its existence, the West needs to accept that Israel is not above criticism, and Iran and the Arab world need to be much more pragmatic. If the world’s leaders can’t bring themselves to discuss racism in a civilised fashion, what example does that set?
It’s interesting to note that the Pope did actually endorse the conference (while condemning Ahmadinejad, of course), which is something.