Berlin fears event will be misused for anti-Semitism; German FM tells 'Post' move expression of Germany's "special responsibility" to Israel.
BERLIN - Germany's Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that it will not take part in the UN-sponsored Durban III anti-racism conference on September 22, because of the possibility that the event can be turned into a forum for anti-Semitic statements.
In a statement to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said “Germany will not participate in the commemoration event for the 10th year anniversary of the Durban conference.”
He added that Germany “cannot rule out that the Durban commemoration event in New York will be misused for anti-Semitic statements, as was the case in previous conferences.”
Westerwelle continued that “therefore Germany will not participate. This is also an expression of our special responsibility toward Israel.”
Anne Bayefsky, a human rights scholar and the principal organizer of a counter-Durban III event, told the Post on Friday, “Germany has done absolutely the right thing in pulling out of the UN's Durban III conference, which is a 'commemoration' - a celebration - of UN-based anti-Semitism on a global scale. Germany, and other European nations which have already pulled out, need to call on the UK and France immediately to stand with them and against Durban's unacceptable perversion of the foundational promise of the UN Charter "the equal rights of nations large and small."'
In an e-mail to the Post on Friday, the President of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dr. Dieter Graumann, wrote that “it was a good and wise decision” that Germany pulled out of Durban III. He said “I am very pleased” about Germany's decision and “the government definitely earns a lot of praise and recognition” for its announcement to skip the event.
“The government showed its true colors and sent a clear signal that should be heard everywhere,” continued Graumann. He termed the conference a “disgrace that should not receive any legitimacy" and noted that "Germany showed that 'we will not participate in a festival of lies.”'
The head of Germany's 105,000 Jews said that this “sign of consistency and responsibility earns great respect and hopefully other countries will also hear” this act to boycott Durban III. He stressed that “it is high time” that other countries follow the message about staying away from Durban III.
Philipp Missfelder , an influential Bundestag deputy who called on his country’s Foreign Ministry in late August to drop its planned participation in the UN-sponsored anti-racism Durban commemoration event, told the Post on Friday, “We very much welcome the Foreign Ministry's decision to forgo participation of German ambassadors at Durban III." Missfelder, who serves as the foreign policy spokesman for Geman Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in the Bundestag, said “this is the right way and a strong sign against the defamation of our partner Israel.”
Westerwelle was the subject of heavy criticism in the media because he delayed his decision to pull out of Durban III. Austria announced on Wednesday that its diplomats will not participate in Durban III because of the “political tone” of the event.
The German foreign minister noted that the decision not to participate was based on “intensive considerations within the federal government.” He added that Germany pulled the plug on its participation in 2009 at the Durban II conference in Geneva, Switzerland because of the “high risk” that the conference could be “politically misused.”
At that 2009 conference, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust and proclaimed the Jewish state “illegitimate” and “criminal.”
He called for the abolition of Israel and Zionism, declaring, “Governments must be encouraged and supported in their fights at eradicating this barbaric racism. Efforts must be made to put an end to Zionism.”
Ahmadinejad used the UN forum to voice, according to critics, his oft-repeated form of Holocaust denial, saying that Israel was “created on the pretext of Jewish suffering from World War II.” Iran's leader is expected to speak at the UN during the Durban III event.
In addition to Germany, a total of nine countries from the UN’s 193 member nations have pulled out of Durban III, including the US, Canada, Italy, Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Israel.
Poland and a number of other democracies are wavering at this point about their participation.
Sacha Staswki, the head of the pro-Israel advocacy organization Honestly Concerned, told the Post on Friday that “Germany waited long, but not too long. It would have been nice to see Germany being on the forefront of the countries to withdraw from the anti-Semitic Durban III conference, thereby setting an example for the other European countries, but better late than never. “
He added that “I strongly hope that Germany will also stand by Israel when it comes to the next task at hand. A unilateral declaration of a State of Palestine, which is not the result of a negotiated agreement, certainly goes against the German raison d'etat, which calls for Germany to defend the security of the Jewish State, just like it is not in the interest of the Palestinians. As a true friend of the Jewish State, Germany cannot simply 'drift' with the majority."
Stawski, who is based in Frankfurt and is viewed as a leading defender of Israel's security in Germany, said “ true friendship means going against the mainstream, if necessary, and standing up for your friend. In the case of Durban III, Germany finally made the right decision. Hopefully it will do the same when it comes to negotiating with its European partners this weekend, in terms of finding a common position on Palestinian statehood, and if necessary go against the majority to take a clear position on September 20th in the UN.
An abstention would not be a sign of friendship.”
Honestly Concerned, the pro-Israel NGO, is slated to launch an October conference to advance the security interests of Israel. The conference will take place in Frankfurt and is expected to attract 3,000 visitors, making it the largest pro-Israel European event.