An official of the United Nations was even-handedly “disturbed” by the level of religious freedom in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A second UN official praised Arab states for ratifying a human rights document denigrating Zionism. And Canada was sufficiently convinced that the UN would fail to uproot anti-Semitism from the upcoming Durban Conference on Racism that it announced it would not take part.
United Nations Special Rappoteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, completed an eight-day visit
Jahangir only alluded to “problems of access to holy places revered by Jews.”
to Israel and the PA this week. In a statement delivered in Jerusalem on January 27, Jahangir said her time here was “ both fascinating and disturbing.” In formulating her report, soon to be released, she met with government officials, representatives of religious organizations, non-governmental organizations and individual worshipers.
Jahangir detailed measures taken by Israel to provide security, including the separation barrier in Judea and Samaria, and said they unjustifiably limit access to religious sites of Christians and Muslims. The “intrusive restrictions” imposed by Israel, she said, are “disproportionate to their aim as well as discriminatory and arbitrary in their implementation.” Without explicitly mentioning the danger to life and limb for Jews who would venture into PA areas for religious worship, Jahangir only alluded to “problems of access to holy places revered by Jews.”
Jahangir had praise for Israel's Supreme Court and said, “During my talks with members of religious minorities in Israel, my interlocutors have by and large acknowledged that there is no religious persecution by the State.” At the same time, she cited examples of what she claimed were specific practices of religious discrimination. She further expressed dismay that conversion, divorce and marriage in Israel is exclusively in the hands of Orthodox Jewish religious authorities.
Regarding the Palestinian Authority, Jahangir noted “serious tensions and in some cases violence” that ensues from conversion. “Some small Christian groups” and other religious minorities “fear a rising level of religious intolerance,” she said, but then gave an example of a Christian man murdered for his beliefs. She also cited Arab “honor killings carried out with impunity” and that “some women in Gaza have recently felt coerced to cover their heads not out of religious conviction but out of fear.”
In addition, “impunity for incitement is a concern,” Jahangir said. “Any violence committed in the name of religion, whether violent acts by zealous settlers or even worse in the form of suicide bombings by militant Islamists, should be denounced, investigated and sanctioned. Furthermore, it is particularly worrying when children are being incited to express hatred toward those with a different religious affiliation.”
Arab Charter on Human Rights Denigrates Zionism
UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour last week praised the ratification of an agreement called the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Arbour called it "an important step forward" in strengthening the protection of human rights in the Arab world. However, as noted by the UN Watch organization in a January 28 letter to the Human Rights Commissioner, the Arab League document "contains several provisions that promote classically anti-Semitic themes."
UN Watch, which is affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, quoted a clause in the Arab Charter on Human Rights "rejecting all forms of racism and Zionism, which constitute a violation of human rights and a threat to international peace and security." Another part of the charter, ratified by seven Arab states, calls for the elimination of the Jewish State, saying that "all forms of racism, Zionism and foreign occupation and domination constitute an impediment to human dignity.... All such practices must be condemned and efforts must be deployed for their elimination."
The letter from UN Watch said: "A text that equates Zionism with racism, describes it as a threat to world peace, as an enemy of human rights and human dignity, and then urges its elimination, is blatantly anti-Semitic. Even if the Arab Charter may contain other, constructive provisions, nothing can justify any endorsement of a text with such hateful language."
The Arab League originally adopted the Arab Charter on Human Rights in 1994, but it was never enforced as it was not ratified by the required seven member states. This month, it was officially approved by the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Syria, Libya, and the Palestinian Authority.
Canada: Next Durban Conference Will Be No Better
In a related development, Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier and the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, Jason Kenney, issued a statement on January 23 in which they announced that their country would not be taking part in the UN's 2009 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. The reason for their decision, they
The conference would again degenerate into a festival of anti-Semitism.
said, was the prospect that the conference would again degenerate into a festival of anti-Semitism, as occurred in 2001.
“Canada has a long and proud history of fighting racism, discrimination and intolerance in all its forms,” said Minister Bernier. “It was for this reason, and its promise of concerted global action against racism, that we participated in the 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Unfortunately, that conference degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations and the very goals the conference sought to achieve.
“Secretary of State Kenney and I had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 Durban Review Conference would remedy the mistakes of the past,” Bernier explained. “We have concluded that, despite our efforts, it will not. Canada will therefore not participate in the 2009 conference.”
“Canada will continue to focus its efforts on genuine anti-racism initiatives that make a difference,” added Kenney. “Our government’s decision to seek full membership on the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research demonstrates that we remain committed to the fight against racism and to the promotion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law at home and around the world.”