Briefing by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior to the Diplomatic Corps

Tel-Aviv, September 4, 2001

Foreign Minister Peres: Thank you for coming at such short notice. The conference in Durban is not yet over, and we are facing an extremely difficult situation. Over the last 24 hours we have had five bombs in Jerusalem, including one today, and then another "bomb" in Durban – not made of explosives, but made of hatred, of extreme anti-Israeli expressions, and I think the two of them can damage very much the very difficult attempt to renew the peace talks and to bring about a cease-fire.

I want to say a few words about the conference, but before it I would like to thank at least 43 countries that have expressed themselves in Durban against the very extreme proposals of the Arab blocs. Many of them belong to the so-called non-aligned nations, and we really are very grateful for the position taken by them – 43 expressed themselves; if it had come to a vote, it would have been even more than that.

We are facing two organized blocs: the Arab League and the Muslim League.

The Arab League is made up of 24 countries, 30 nations – totally anti-Israeli, totally against peace, for the renewal of the boycott, for the continuation of the intifada, for the cutting of relations with Israel, and no reason nor justice nor activity can change their position.

Unfortunately, there is another bloc, the Muslim League, which comprises 60 countries, over a billion people, and there, too, the position is basically anti-Israeli, not necessarily pro-peace, extremely biased, on many occasions ignorant about what is taking place here. May I say that among all those Muslim countries and Arab countries, I can hardly recognize a real democracy, a full democracy. In many of them there is neither peace nor civil rights, nor really an understanding of the conflict which is taking place in our country, in our region.

The subject of the conference was supposed to be human rights. It could have been an important conference. Instead it became a farce.

When we are talking about human rights, the first human right is to alive, because if you kill somebody, the rest of human rights are irrelevant and unimportant. For 53 years, Israel was forced to exercise the right to remain alive. We were attacked five times, with an attempt to overpower us, to destroy us. In between there were acts of terror, of violence, of killing against Israelis, against Jews, here and abroad – and they did it while describing themselves as the victims.

Israel never set out to occupy a piece of land from anybody. Our map is a result of self-defense, not a condition. And after we won the land, that we didn’t intend at all to win, we returned it – we returned the land and the water to Egypt, to Jordan; we withdrew from Lebanon. We offered the Syrians a complete return of the Golan Heights. It’s supposed to be "land for peace" – we gave back all the land, I’m not sure we got back all the peace, to be truthful.

And, for the first time, we offered the Palestinians an independent state on most of the territories – actually, in Camp David, all of the territories. I don’t know any example in history that a people outgunned and outnumbered, which was forced to fight on so many occasions and won militarily, and yet never was tempted to take over a land, a nation. Never.

Now, to describe us as colonial? Why? Because their attempts to overpower us were not successful? To describe us as people who are thirsty for land, when we gave back all the land? To describe us as racist? Is there any law or any attempt in this land to which you are ambassadors, to segregate because of color, because of race, because of ethnic belonging? It goes against everything that we stand for. The Jewish people themselves have all the colors, from black to blond, and we come from many ethnic groups. If there is a land and a nation that is really trying to introduce equality and fairness in a very troubled history, after an extremely difficult period in our own history before it, with the Holocaust – to describe us as racist is a bluff, is a lie, is a shame.

We are not going to take lessons about democracy or equality or human rights from anybody else after the torture, the suffering, that we went through. It makes injustice a joke. It turns human rights into an occasion to win points to justify the continuation of throwing bombs and using violence, and trying to boycott us, and trying to forget everything we were doing and why we were doing it.

I know that South Africa itself wanted very much to make a conference of dignity, of hope, of truth. But unfortunately, the two blocs, which are so prejudiced, made it impossible and created a show of injustice and of loss of hope.

To continue violence and accuse us of using force, to declare boycotts against us and discrimination against, and accuse us of being discriminative is a shame.

We asked you to come because many of your countries are still in Durban, and I really want to say, with all seriousness, that every responsible country, every responsible person, should stop this from happening – not to submit to an Arab bloc, to a Muslim bloc which is blind and would not listen to any call of our side.

We know that we can be outnumbered and outvoted, but this will not change us. We don’t feel that we were defeated; human rights were defeated. We don’t think it’s a setback for Israel; we think it’s a setback for peace. We don’t think that this is a court of justice; it is a court of mockery of justice. And it’s a pity, because the world needs a respectful, objective, honest United Nations, where the suffering of all people is addressed equally, and where peace is a noble target, and where truth is the only way to achieve it.

We shall appreciate it if every country that you represent will do everything in the remaining days to stop it from happening. I say it not only on behalf of Israel, I think I express the views of many people in the free world, the wishes of many people who seek peace.

Despite what I have said, we shall try to continue our efforts to achieve a cease-fire, so that we shall be able to implement the Mitchell Report and the Tenet Document. I’m not sure that this will happen, that the meeting with Arafat will take place this weekend. The preparations are going on, and we would like to allow a meeting in a more isolated place, without so many television cameras and tens of journalists.

But we didn’t change our mind. We shall do whatever is needed to defend our lives, and we shall do whatever is possible to bring peace to our neighborhood.

Thank you.

Deputy Foreign Minister Melchior: We met some weeks ago and we talked about our fears for the conference in Durban. We decided to go for two reasons: first of all, because Israel, as also the Jewish people, has to stand in front where the fight is the fight against racism. Nobody of the Jewish people, after 2,500 of knowing persecution, can witness what this persecution can lead to of the ultimate crimes. Therefore, we have to be in the front everywhere, where the issue of racism is on the table, to fight any kind of racism – against Jews, against blacks, against anybody. That is one reason why we wanted to be in Durban and why we went.

The second reason was that we were very much urged by our friends all over the world, from South Africa, from Europe and many others, that we have to be there and fight this out, although we knew that the hate language that stemmed from Teheran would be on the table when the delegates arrived in Durban.

I must say to you that this document which is on the table now in Durban is the most anti-Semitic official document put on any table in any official conference since World War II. It is not only anti-Semitic, but it is also anti-semantic. It takes the vocabulary, the worst words which are known in the dictionary of humankind – racism, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing – it takes this vocabulary and, in an anti-semantic act, turns these absolute evils, which we all have to fight, because we have racism in all societies, and it takes them and makes a mockery of them. It empties them of any moral value – because if everything is racism, if everything is genocide, then nothing is racism and genocide.

All fascist movements since the Second World War have had to either deny or minimalize the Holocaust in order to open new crimes against humanity. This document does exactly the same. It has to minimize the Holocaust, make a mockery of the Holocaust, kill the victims once again, in order to open again, in this case anti-Semitism, but they could just as well be against foreign workers or against other races or anything else. This is what this document does.

We went there to try to see if we could find a reasonable compromise and an agreement with all the peoples and the nations there. We got a lot of support, I must say, as the Foreign Minister very much stressed. I don’t remember so much support from all over the world – nations who have not supported us in international forums before got up one after the other and were annoyed at this arrogance which is kidnapping this conference for their purposes.

I have to say one thing basic about racism, about the fight for human rights. If they are not universal, if they do not apply to everyone and everywhere, then they are, as they became here, a vicious political weapon. Again, the language of hatred which leads us nowhere.

I remember exactly one year ago I was together with then Prime Minister Barak in the United Nations at the Millennium Conference. There were 26 heads of state we met then, not more than a year ago. Every one of these states, including some of the Arab nations and other nations who don’t usually support Israel, said that the proposals then on the table would bring a different future for both Israel and the Palestinian people, would give the Palestinians their own right to self-determination, their own state, their own future, their own dignity; their peace, which we need also, because if they do not have peace, we will not have peace; and if they do not have borders, we will not have borders. That was on the table just one year ago. And now we hear that the intifada and the language of violence – and there is a direct connection between the hate language of the bombs – that has now taken over.

Until we can get back on track again, what is on the table there will not only harm the work of the United Nations, will not only harm the fight against racism, but it will surely also harm peace. Because you can make peace if you change the language. You can make peace if the conflict is a conflict of territory. But you can’t make peace if you turn it into an existential conflict where you delegitimize the other party. This is what we called on in Durban when we saw that all hope was out. We had to leave Durban, unfortunately, but we will not leave the fight for peace, the fight for getting back to the language of peace instead of the language of hate.

 Briefing by FM Shimon Peres and Deputy FM Michael Melchior to the Diplomatic Corps-4-Sep-2001
 Briefing by FM Shimon Peres and Deputy FM Michael Melchior to the Diplomatic Corps-4-Sep-2001
World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – Israeli fact sheets