By Ira N. Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC)
Last week, President Barack Obama opted to boycott the United Nations Conference against racism in Geneva (also know as Durban II) set to take place in April of this year. The Obama administration made clear to the Islamic nations driving the Durban II agenda that as long as the conference was structured as a bash-Israel fest, the United States would have nothing to do with its proceedings.
This support for Israel by the new administration highlights two important points about Obama and his die-hard, ideological opponents. First, the President has once again illustrated that he works hard to keep his campaign promises. Second, it highlights the tenacity of Obama’s ideological opponents to invariably find him to be intensely anti-Israel—even if that evidence runs up against cold hard facts.
During last year’s presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to reengage in the U.N. and argued that the concept of a conference against racism had value. However, he also stated on the Simon Wiesenthal Center presidential candidate questionnaire that, “If our efforts to keep the conference on a responsible path are not working, and the conference planning committee is not cooperative, the U.S. will not participate.”
As President, Obama sent a U.S. delegation to mid-February pre-conference proceedings. The purpose of such a delegation was to explore whether the agenda of the conference could be salvaged from those who merely wished to focus on demonizing Israel, constricting the right of free speech (when it came to attacks on radical Islam) and highlighting the U.S.‘s history of racism by calling for reparations for slavery. When it became clear that there was little hope for refocusing the conference on the world’s very real problems of racism, the President announced that it would serve no constructive purpose for the U.S. to attend. This announcement, over a month before the conference begins, will undoubtedly lead to a boycott by other democracies.
The administration’s die-hard foes could not wait for last week’s announcement. As soon as the administration took its first moves to try to salvage the conference, they pounced. It was not just the knee-jerk Republican organizations who screamed that the President’s actions represented an “extremely disturbing change in American foreign policy regarding Israel.” One commentator at National Review online stated, “What is new is that the new president of the United States doesn’t care about the U.N.‘s reincarnation of ‘Zionism is racism.’” At the rabidly right-wing American Thinker web site, we were told, “Well, file this info in the ‘this was predictable’ column.” The article went on to breathlessly report that the U.S. would attend Durban II. Richard Heideman, a Republican-leaning Jewish activist, predicted, “the chances that U.S. President Barack Obama will boycott a conference against racism are slim….because that’s his mindset.”
I would like to revive a phrase that William Safire once penned for Vice President Spiro Agnew - “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Many of these new nattering nabobs are made up of those Jewish critics of the President who are intent on proving his bad intentions toward Israel no matter what the facts show.
One would hope that even Obama’s toughest opponents might admit they were wrong about the administration’s policy on Durban II. The President, as promised, tried to change the direction of this U.N. conference, but when it was clear that he could not, he used his international credibility to discredit the coming disgrace of Geneva.
Sadly, for the nattering nabobs of negativism, ideological rigidity trumps any acknowledgement of reality. Within hours of the administration’s announcement of its boycott of Durban II, one of the “savants” at the American Thinker declared, “Too late, Mr. President. Your imprimatur is all over that draft.”
When we engage in this game of scoring partisan points at all costs, our community loses. When facts are trumped by ideological combat, our community loses. When positive policy outcomes take a back seat to scoring partisan points, our community loses. At a time when Israel and the Jewish people do truly face existential threats, a hardheaded, reality based view of politics surely must overcome the politics of knee-jerk negativism.