Center Field: Honoring Mary Robinson, Obama honors appeasement of anti-Semitism

Posted by Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-2-09

In the latest example of President Barack Obama’s utter and complete tone-deafness regarding Jewish sensibilities, the White House has announced that Mary Robinson will be one of sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

While Robinson has had a distinguished career as the President of Ireland and a human rights activist, she has also displayed a consistent anti-Israel animus. Most disturbing, she was one of the people most responsible for the great debacle at Durban, 2001, when a conference convened to fight racism became a UN-sponsored hate-fest against Jews.

At a time when Barack Obama should be honoring Winston Churchills in the fight against anti-Semitism, he has chosen a Neville Chamberlain, someone who appeased the haters at Durban and in the UN again and again, until it was too late.

As the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002, Robinson consistently displayed a pro-Palestinian bias during a fragile moment in the search for Middle East peace.

When Yasser Arafat led the Palestinians away from negotiations back toward terror in 2000, Robinson could have stood up and urged the Palestinians to eschew violence. Instead, she and the UN Human Rights Commission continued to demonize Israel, implicitly encouraging Palestinian terrorism.

Making matters worse, she presided over the infamous World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001. She repeatedly ignored the pleas of distinguished human rights activists including the late Congressman Tom Lantos and the US secretary of state at the time Colin Powell to stop the Durban conference from degenerating into an orgy of Israel- and Jew-bashing.

In fairness, eventually she herself was so appalled by a cartoon the Arab Lawyers’ Union distributed equating the Star of David with the Swastika that she proclaimed at an official dinner “When I see something like this, I am a Jew.”

Nevertheless it was too little, too late. And in her closing remarks Robinson declared “we… succeeded,” a shocking statement considering that anti-Zionists hijacked the conference, demonizing Israel, bullying Jewish participants and distributing crude anti-Semitic images of hooked-nose Jews at the parallel NGO forum.

For at least three years after the conference, Mary Robinson continued to celebrate Durban’s success. It was only in response to public campaigns at McGill University (which, full disclosure, I led) and at Emory University against her receiving honorary doctorates in 2004 that she began to acknowledge Durban?s legacy as mixed.

As such, she was also responsible for trying to sanitize the historical record and soft-pedal the Durban disgrace.

For many in the human rights community, when they hear Durban, Mary Robinson, Human Rights and the UN, their knees go wobbly. For others of us, we hear Durban – and everything associated with it – and our stomachs get queasy.

Mary Robinson failed at Durban. Mary Robinson failed when in the Regional Conference in Teheran in February, 2001 leading up to Durban she watched as Israel was targeted and demonized, allowing the anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism to fester.

Mary Robinson failed when in that already inflamed atmosphere she allowed the Palestinian conflict to be singled out, acknowledging on August 9, 2001 the need for “Recognition of the accumulated sense of grievance and frustration because of prolonged military occupation, now in its fourth decade.”

This behavior violated the UN protocols whereby at human rights world conferences such as at the UN Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and the UN Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995, no single state or conflict was to be singled out.

And Mary Robinson failed when she refused to distance herself from the conference – in fact boasted about it.

In fighting modern anti-Semitism, the moral neutrality of the politically correct – which often masks moral sloppiness or even outright bias – is particularly insidious. To see the President of the United States honor someone who has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution is sickening.

The President also awarded Senator Edward Kennedy and the late Congressman Jack Kemp with the Medal of Freedom. Mary Robinson – and apparently Barack Obama himself – could learn from both their examples how to defend human rights without enabling the modern-day demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.

So far, the American Jewish community has been afraid to criticize Obama. Most have stood silent as he has singled out Israel for criticism while making nice to Iran and other dictatorships.

When American Jewish leaders were finally granted an audience with the president, the meeting was initially kept off the his daily schedule and, by all reports, was deferential, not confrontational.

How many more examples of presidential insensitivity to Jewish concerns will it take for American Jews to remember that as citizens in a democracy, it is our right and responsibility to stand up for ourselves.

And in the case of Mary Robinson’s undeserved honor, it is our right and responsibility to stand up for American integrity, making sure that the Presidential Medal of Freedom is not awarded to those whose commitment to liberty and justice for all is spotty and trendy rather than consistent and enduring.

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