Briefing to the Foreign Press by
Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior
Durban: World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Jerusalem----- August 27.....Deputy FM Melchior: I think that it is extremely important that we are in Durban, that the Jewish people and the State of Israel should be in the front of any battle against racism and xenophobia; that the Jewish people, after long periods of prosecution and discrimination should be in the front of every fight against persecution and discrimination, against any people or nation.

We have that obligation as Jews, I feel, as a Jewish state. The rule which is most often cited in the Bible is the rule of "love the stranger, because you were a stranger in Egypt's land." The governing principle of Judaism, the first commandment according to the Jewish counting (I know that it's a little different in some of the countries you come from), the governing commandment, is the belief in God, who is the God who brought you out of slavery. That is, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the bond of slavery." That was the governing element and theme of Judaism, which appears again and again in every single symbol or tradition we have: the Sabbath is to remember the slavery. The Passover is to remember the slavery. When we put on tefillin [phylacteries] in the morning it's to remember the slavery, and the freedom from slavery, and the fight against this disgusting phenomenon which humankind still knows, unfortunately, in every society, also in our own society, of racism.

And therefore, that is the governing principle. That is why we want to go. On the other hand, as you well know, I don't have to go through the whole history, but the fourth of the four regional conferences was in the human rights capital of Teheran, and they decided there to put all the old anti-Semitic filth into this conference, and really to try to turn it into a farce, and this is something we can't live with.

I must say very strongly: it's a legitimate thing to criticize the State of Israel, the government of Israel. It's a legitimate thing. I myself, at least in other situations, have done it, and will probably do it again. I think it's a healthy thing for democracy, and for sure it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism if you criticize the State of Israel, the government of the State of Israel and its policies; that is right and good and legitimate. I think also it's right that we have human rights organizations in this country who put on a different level the criticism against Israel than they work with the criticisms of other countries, because that is their job, and our democracy. Even if we as government don't agree with them and don't like what they're saying, it is, I think, perfectly legitimate, as long as what they say is true.

Where's the difference? Why is what is happening here not legitimate? It's not legitimate when the world society takes one country in the whole world, and singles this one country out for special treatment - that already is discrimination, and the wording here is much stronger than discrimination and becomes racism itself. That is why we have such a problem with Durban.

Durban is an attempt to upgrade the hatred against Jews, the total delegitimization of the State of Israel and the Jewish people - its past, its suffering, what it has been through for the last 2,500 years, the Holocaust, and its present and future. Because the Jewish people don't have the same right as all other people have for self-determination and the ability to exist in peace with its neighbors. And if this will succeed, the result will be that the whole world fight against racism will have been made a farce of. Because if everything is racism, then nothing is racism. It will make a farce of the UN, and the UN's possibility of doing something constructive in any field, because Durban will be the new code which countries will put in every UN conference, no matter if the UN conference is about health or about culture, or whatever - Durban will be on the agenda, and will split humankind in democracies and those who fight democracy and decency.

It will be a major blow against the peace process, because if you turn our conflict into an existential conflict, if you claim that the creation of the State of Israel - not Israeli policies, but the creation of the State of Israel - was an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, then you are already on a field where there is nothing to negotiate. We're not in a territorial conflict anymore, we're in an existential conflict, and the 55 Islamic nations who are promoting this are doing something which will be a major blow - maybe that's what they want to obtain, that we can never be back again on the negotiation table because the Jewish people represents the absolute evil of this world. But everybody who does not believe that, everybody who believes in democracy, decency, everybody who wants us to be back around the negotiation table, has to absolutely oppose what is going on in Durban.

Therefore let me just say as the last sentence, that I think at this stage that we cannot go to Durban. That is our inclination. We are of course in intense consultation with many countries. I have, together with the Foreign Minister, sent messengers to 20-odd countries of the central countries of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and we're in very close contact with the countries in Latin America. We are, of course, in very close contact with the Americans on this issue.

What it looks like now is that this is a conference which will be turned into a farce, a legitimization, an international approval of hatred of Jews, and we cannot give legitimization to such a conference by participating if there is not some dramatic change, which I hope there is, because we really want to go there, and we want to be a part of the world effort in Durban, which was supposed to be a big victory over apartheid and the absolute evils of this world. We really would want to go there, and I still pray and hope for that change, but just now as it's looking, we will not be able to go to Durban.