U.N. Alliance of Civilizations: Not Doing Much to Promote Tolerance

Brett Schaefer /

At the fifth Global Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) this week in Vienna, Austria, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “Just like Zionism, anti-Semitism, and fascism, it becomes unavoidable that Islamophobia must be regarded as a crime against humanity.” The video of his statement is viewable starting at the 8-minute mark (h/t U.N. Watch).

Conflating Zionism, which was the term coined for the movement to return the Jewish people to their historical homeland and establish a sovereign state of Israel, with anti-Semitism and fascism (and by implication the Holocaust, which resulted in the extermination of 6 million Jews) is an inversion of staggering proportions.

Indeed, Erdogan’s statement rekindles memories of one of the most shameful moments in U.N. history: the adoption of Resolution 3379 determining that “zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” When Resolution 3379 was being debated, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, issued an unequivocal denunciation: “The [United States] does not acknowledge, it will not abide by it, will never acquiesce in this infamous act.… A great evil has been loosed upon the world.”

The U.S. fought for years to revoke the “Zionism is racism” resolution, finally succeeding in 1991 with the adoption of Resolution 46/86. As noted by Ambassador John Bolton in The New York Times at the time, “To declare as ‘racist’ the historical and cultural underpinnings of a state is tantamount to branding that state an international criminal, for racism is a crime enumerated in the Genocide Convention and numerous other instruments commonly accepted under international law.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was on stage with Erdogan when he made these remarks. He did not denounce Erdogan’s statement during his remarks, nor did he walk out. Although Erdogan’s speech was on Wednesday, the Obama Administration has yet to publicly denounce his statement.

The despicable nature of Erdogan’s comments is underscored by the venue. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan established the AoC in 2005 to “improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions, and to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.”

The sad irony is that the AoC was initiated by the governments of Spain and Turkey. Who was the Prime Minister of Turkey working at that time to establish the AoC? Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

From the beginning there have been reasons to question the utility and purpose of the AoC. Recommendations by the AoC to restrict freedom of expression in order to combat “Islamophobia” have underscored those concerns. Now one of the founders of the AoC has violated the very purpose of the forum in voicing racist, intolerant sentiments at the opening of this year’s event.

A dialogue subject to censorship and anti-Israel bias, regardless of intent, is unlikely to be productive or fruitful. The U.S. should make clear it will not support such a flawed endeavor.