RACIAL ISSUES, GREAT AND SMALL:
From The U.N.'s Racism Conference Debacle, To Tennis' Racism Squabbles

By EDWARD LAZARUS

Tuesday, Sep. 04, 2001

As the third United Nations Conference on Racism convenes in South Africa, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that while the world continues to make imperfect, halting progress against bigotry and discrimination, our thinking on matters of race both large and small ranges from twisted to confused.

On the international level, this summer has been both the best of times and worst of times. In The Hague, an international court of justice is bringing to heel the butchers of the Balkans. This is a singular triumph of the forces of civilization over those of barbarity and certainly the strongest international action against ethnic or racial genocide since Nuremberg.

With an impressive commitment to fair proceedings, the War Crimes tribunal has moved forward doggedly, professionally, and effectively. And with any luck, it will make a powerful multinational statement against the mass killing of civilians and put a scare into aspiring tyrants around the world.

In direct counterpoint, the U.N. Conference is currently sinking under the weight of its own racist agenda. There is something nearly obscene about the coalescing of pro-Palestinian forces uniting to denounce Israel as a racist state.

The Likely Aftereffects of the U.N. Debacle

Only the uninformed or an apologist would deny the rising tide of racist anti-Arab sentiment in Israel. But it is the Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghans who call, even officially, for the destruction of Israel, who weave a hatred of Israel and Jews into their children's textbooks, who send suicide bombers into squares crowded with children, and who deny religious freedom as a matter of routine.

Still, the problem with the U.N.'s skewed moral compass is much more serious than the easy truth that the controlling group at the Conference has no business pointing fingers. Sadly, the debacle in South Africa is likely to make a lasting and effective international effort against race hatred and genocide much more difficult.

As long as efforts to define international legal norms are subject to the kind of distortion on display at the U.N. Conference, the United States and other leading democratic nations will never accede to meaningful international jurisdiction over their interests or their people. To the contrary, the spectacle of undemocratic and oppressive regimes banding together to target a democratic nation (even one that pursues some unpopular policies) serves only to reinforce inward-looking forces in Western regimes, encouraging a policy of isolationism, not internationalism.

The War at Home?: Race and the Tennis World


Edward Lazarus writes about, practices, and teaches law in Los Angeles. A former federal prosecutor, he is the author of two books — most recently, Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court.

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