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Opinion: Japan should join boycott of 20th Anniversary of anti-Israel Durban Conference

This photo shows the co-authors Rabbi Abraham Cooper, left, and Kinue Tokudome.(Courtesy of the co-authors)

The Jewish people all over the world were deeply touched when they saw a moment of silence observed during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics to honor the memory of 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games. We are grateful to the Japanese Olympic Committee for finally doing what the families of the victims had been waiting for for 49 years.

    This photo shows the U.S. delegation to the Durban Conference in 2001 including the late Congressman Tom Lantos, center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, far right. (Courtesy of the co-authors)

    The committee also acted swiftly and appropriately when it removed the person in charge of the opening ceremony for mocking the Nazi Holocaust in the past.

    The games have already provided some needed moments of hope and triumph even as the world reels from the ongoing pandemic.

    Now we need Japan to exhibit leadership on the international diplomatic stage.

    This September marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (Durban I) that was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

    The objectives of the Durban Conference were, according to the U.N. resolution 52/111, to review existing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and to formulate concrete recommendations to further action-oriented national, regional, and international measures to combat them.

    But instead, Durban was derailed by NGOs that opposed the Jewish state and degenerated into an anti-Israel hate event.

    It is expected that during the 20th-anniversary event (Durban IV) at United Nations headquarters this September, there will be another attempt to promote a hate agenda that will pour fuel on the already raging global fire of anti-Semitism.

    We urge Japan to join with the United States, Canada, U.K., Germany, Austria, Australia, Hungary, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Israel, all of whom, according to media reports, have already announced that they would boycott this misguided and inappropriate event at the United Nations.

    The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has formally asked Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to announce that Japan will not participate in the 20th anniversary of this ill-fated conference. In that letter we explained what happened in Durban in 2001:

    "That conference and the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action degenerated into an unprecedented anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and Holocaust denial hate fest, resulting in a walkout by the U.S. delegation, led by the late Holocaust Survivor, Congressman Tom Lantos."

    SWC representatives, including the co-author of this essay, Rabbi Cooper, were verbally and physically assaulted by Iranian delegates and Jewish representatives were told by police not to venture into the street when 20,000 protesters descending on the event holding venomous signs including one banner declaring "Hitler was right!" The Durban Conference was also the venue where the big lie, "Israel=Apartheid," was birthed.

    The late Congressman Tom Lantos wrote in his report, "The Durban Debacle: An Insider's View of the UN World Conference Against Racism" that the United States tried, without success, to prevent the conference from becoming a venue to demonize Israel.

    "Our diplomats met stiff resistance as they sought support from our closest democratic allies -- the EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, and others -- in trying to form a united front against the regimes seeking to distort the conference."

    After seeing the debacle at Durban, however, 10 countries, including the U.S.'s closest democratic allies, boycotted the review conference (Durban II) held in 2009. Japan attended it but did criticize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech for calling Israel "the most cruel and repressive racist regime."

    At that meeting at the U.N. Office in Geneva, Rabbi Cooper witnessed a senior aide to the Iranian President shout "Zion-Nazi" repeatedly at Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Elie Wiesel.

    Yet, Japan again attended the 10th-anniversary conference (Durban III) held in 2011 while 14 countries boycotted it.

    The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even during COVID, remind the world of our global interconnectivity. Other recent events, including a reported Iranian drone attack on an Israeli shipping company's oil tanker -- owned by a Japanese company -- which left a Briton and a Romanian dead, is a brutal reminder that those wishing to harm a peaceful international environment are working feverishly to push the Gulf region towards war.

    In advance of next month's 20th anniversary, we urge Japan to join the many democratic countries that have rightly chosen to boycott Durban IV. By doing so, Tokyo will strike a blow against extremists in the region and will help the Jewish people's difficult struggle against hate crimes in many parts of the world.

    (By Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Kinue Tokudome)

    Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean, Director, Global Social Action of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

    Kinue Tokudome is a Japanese author and translator who recently translated, "Dreams Never Dreamed," a memoir of Rabbi Kalman Samuels, the founder of Shalva, a care facility for children with disabilities in Jerusalem.

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