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Obama Gets it Right and Wrong on U.N. Racism Conference

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Apr 20, 2009

President Barack Obama got it right and terribly wrong on the United Nations global racism conference in Geneva. He rightly demanded that the conference conveners drop the stock Zionism is racism plank from the draft resolution of the conference. The Israel knock was the same sticking point that former President Bush used to dodge going to the anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The conveners complied and sanitized the objectionable language from the resolution. That should have been enough to get a U.S. delegation on a plane to Geneva.

For a brief moment it looked like it would be enough. An Obama spokesperson went so far as to publicly praise the move and say that the administration was deeply grateful for the change. The Obama administration wasnt grateful enough, though, to attend.

This is where President Obama gets it terribly wrong: The 20 nations that initially put the anti-Israel language in the resolution as well as certain other rhetorical points that the United States cant stomach can't be challenged in absentia. There is still too much bitter racial and ethnic hate and turmoil in too many places in the world that have nothing to do with Israel and Middle East problems that scream for attention attention President Obama cant duck. The United States has the money, muscle, and political clout to take the lead in the continuing fight against racism, repression, genocide, state sponsored ethnic wars and cleansing in every part of the globe. That includes abuses by some of the nations that ritually target Israel for its human rights abuses.

Obama seems to welcome that chance to confront those nations on their abuses, saying repeatedly that he will engage them whenever and wherever he can. Hes shown signs of keeping that promise on Cuba and Iran. But they are relatively soft targets since there is broad international consensus that the United States must dump its archaic, outdated, and failed policy on Cuba, a policy thats out of step with all of Latin America. In the case of Iran, U.S. outreach is a matter of international security since Iran is a looming regional and international nuclear threat.

Diplomatic dtente with Cuba and Iran, though, doesnt do much to spotlight caste oppression in India, the plight of the Kurds in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, skinhead violence in Germany and Britain, the continuing theft of Indian lands in Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala, and the genocidal ethnic attacks in Darfur and the Congo. Nor does it prod Canada and Australia to do even more to right the historic wrongs against Indians and Aborigines. The United States must also call on the carpet those corrupt African and Asian dictatorial regimes that elevate violence and terror to state policy against dissidents, many of whom are invariably of different ethnic groups.

In 2001, a clearly conflicted Secretary of State Colin Powell understood this. He thought the decision to bail out of the Durban conference was a grave mistake, and that the United States should and could do more good by being there to prove that it did take the fight against global racism seriously. Powell understood that the racism conference was supposed to draw up a battle plan to combat racism wherever it reared its ugly head in the world.

In the provisional agenda that the U.N. racism conference drafted in 1997 it called for nations to identify victims of discrimination, develop prevention, education, and protection measures, and provide long-term strategies to bolster national and international efforts to combat discrimination. The obsessive focus on Israel just kept getting in the way of making any real headway on that agenda. The disputed resolution, equating Zionism with racism passed in 1975 by a deeply divided United Nations, was vague, ill defined and had no force of law.

It did nothing to alleviate Palestinian suffering. Instead, it made Israel dig its heels in deeper and refuse to make more concessions on Palestinian rights. The United Nations, with the consent of Arab nations and the Palestinians, wised up to the blunder and overwhelmingly voted to dump the resolution in 1991. However, it still keeps cropping up as a barrier to getting the United States to the conference table.

The big danger of a one-track focus on Israel is that the conference will again give short shrift to the ethnic warfare that still rages in these countries.

The Congressional Black Caucus has been one of the Obama administrations loudest cheerleaders. Yet it flatly called the Obama administrations decision to skip Geneva disappointing. Its more than disappointing. Its yet another opportunity the United States blew to fight against global racism. Bush didnt do that, and that was no real surprise. But Obama is not Bush and for him to pass up the opportunity to take a stand against global racism at Geneva repeats Bushs folly.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, The Hutchinson Report can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com.

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