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The Effica​cy of Action

April 23, 2009
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It would be tempting to dismiss the anti-Israel ravings that launched the conference on racism in Geneva with a simple "I told you so." Israel and its global supporters would certainly be justified in doing so after hearing the not-unexpected diatribes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he opened the gathering this week.

If anything, the tone set by Ahmadinejad made it clear that the United States and other nations had made the right decision in following Israel's and Canada's lead in boycotting the event.

But there are other lessons to be gleaned from the gathering, including this age-old one: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists took their experience from the first conference on racism in Durban in 2001 and used it to prepare this time around.

As a result, a well-organized effort to press for a boycott paid off, with the United States and several key European nations, including Germany, opting out of the gathering. And while the participating nations adopted a new document that still incorporated a reference to "racist" Israel left over from the first Durban conference in 2001, it was tamer than originally feared.

In addition, a concerted effort not to repeat the sin of unpreparedness led to a series of Jewish-sponsored events staged near the conference site. Some top human-rights activists, including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and Canada's former justice minister, Irwin Cotler, were on hand to participate in counterdemonstrations and Holocaust Memorial Day vigils.

It seems fitting that this reminder of the need to learn from the past comes smack in the middle of April. Because of the way the calendar falls this year, April has been --and will continue to be -- an emotionally volatile month for Jews, as we mark the most dramatic and wrenching chapters of our history.

Remembrance is a key theme in this long holiday season. At Passover, we recall and relive our liberation from Egypt and our contentious 40-year trek through the desert. On Yom Hashoah, which we observe this week with private and public memorials, we commemorate the inexplicable suffering and attempted annhilation of the Jewish people during World War II. And next week, we honor Israel's fallen soldiers on Yom Hazikaron and, one day later, we mark Israel's 61st birthday on Yom Ha'atzmaut.

But it's not enough to remember. It's what we do with our history. As Jews, we are taught it's our actions that matter more than our words.We remember the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt. We speak out against genocide in Darfur because we were the victims of genocide. And we work to stamp out injustice because that is the Jewish way. Durban II was clearly not the hate-fest of Durban I -- because a coalition of leaders, diplomats and activists remembered the past and refused to let it happen again.

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