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World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

31 August 2001

Jewish-Palestinian conflict continues in Durban as church leader calls for tolerance
by Stephen Webb

The antagonism between Jewish and Palestinian delegates at the NGO Forum of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) being held in Durban this week continued on the same day His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia and moderator of the WCC central committee, released an address saying intolerance is an evil that must be eradicated.

In a media conference at the Forum on August 30, a Jewish caucus expressed its concern at "attempts to turn the conference against racism into a world conference for racism".

It criticized what it called attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel and to deny to the Jewish people their right to self-determination and the right to preserve their cultural and religious identity.

One of several statements read at the media conference said the Durban meeting was a forum where the nations of the world could jointly address the evils of racism everywhere. Instead it was being dominated by what essentially was a political conflict between two peoples, with one side, Israel, being burdened with all the blame.

Jewish delegates to the Forum appealed for all fair-minded people to stop it becoming derailed by the Middle East. They asked that Middle East peace be dealt with in a fair and impartial manner, and that it not be allowed to dominate the conference agenda when so many other pressing issues need to be heard. The delegates sang "Give peace a chance", but were shouted down by Palestinian supporters.

A member of the Jewish caucus, David Matas from B'nai B'rith in Canada, said such disruptions were attempts to silence the voice of the victims and "a continuation of the war against Israel by other means". "At the whole conference, there has been an attempt to use it for exactly that purpose, to attack Israel to delegitimize it, to ascribe to it sins it has not committed... This fight against Israel has become a fight against the whole Jewish community and form of anti-Semitism."

Matas said he was appalled that people were trivializing the Holocaust, and ridiculing every form of suffering that the planet has inflicted upon people - crimes against humanity, apartheid, war crimes, ethnic cleansing - by applying these descriptions in a wild and exaggerated manner to Israel".

A media conference with Muslim mothers from Palestine, held immediately after the Jewish caucus media conference, was told that it is fraudulent to use the word "anti-Semitism" to describe criticism of Israel's "occupation and apartheid".

The message of His Holiness Aram I was written upon the request of Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner and secretary general of the World Conference Against Racism.

"Intolerance hinders interaction, destroys coexistence and jeopardizes the future of the world. It is a sin against the Creator. We must, therefore, combat intolerance with its far-reaching consequences," His Holiness said.

Violation of human rights is another form of intolerance, he said, and it is evident that unless the rights of all peoples and nations for freedom, a homeland, equal opportunity, participation and community are fully respected, intolerance will increase and generate more hatred and violence.

"For all people of faith," he said, "eradication of intolerance is a continual affirmation of their own beliefs and religious values. For Christians, it is a response to the will of God."

He said it is his hope that the World Conference will wrestle with the question of intolerance seriously and responsibly, that its message touch the conscience of all those who perpetrate human rights violations, and that it "commit all people of good faith to go beyond statements and make a difference".

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