Judea Pearl on Durban II and Jimmy Carter

Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father, should, by rights, be a featured speaker this April in Geneva, at the United Nations' follow-up meeting to the famous World Conference Against Racism, Racial Intolerance, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance - who can't love that name? - that was held in Durban in September of 2001. After all, Pearl's family was directly victimized by prejudice - Danny Pearl was murdered because he was a Jew.

Judea told me he would be happy to speak at the conference, though he believes that it will once again focus almost exclusively on the sins of one country, and one country alone. How could Israel not become the target of the conference, when Iran and Libya are key planners of the meeting?

The Obama Administration, which is boycotting the conference (Ben Smith has the scoop), along with Canada and Israel and perhaps some Western European countries, should suggest to the United Nations that Judea address the General Assembly on the subject of hate. What better way to highlight the issue of racism than by listening to its victims? I spoke to Judea about Durban and about his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which criticized, among others, Jimmy Carter, for accepting as legitimate the demands of terrorists. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Jeffrey Goldberg: What is your specific problem with Jimmy Carter?

Judea Pearl: Jimmy Carter believes that terrorism will stop when the Palestinians get what they say they want. I believe that terrorism should be taboo regardless of the grievance, and he doesn't see it like that. He sees it as a legitimate way of pressuring someone. But everybody has a grievance. There are just some things that you don't do. There is good and there is evil. The men who killed my son had a grievance, everybody has a grievance. Once you focus on the grievance, rather than the terrorist act itself, the terrorist has won.

JG: The Durban II draft calls for official international protections for religion against criticism. You've suggested that this is motivated by some Muslim nations that want to shift the focus away from Islamist terrorism.
JD: What gets me is the idea that speaking against terrorism gets you labeled Islamophobic.
JG: How do you think the U.S. should try to influence the outcome of the Durban II conference?

JD: They should try to discredit it because of its essential ridiculousness. It's a focused hatefest. It's a hatefest against one entity, the Jewish national movement. Iran and Libya are organizers, after all. I think the whole negotiating text is meant to exclude the kind of hatred that took Danny's life. The hatred was directed at the U.S., Israel, and the Jewish people. Durban protects this kind of hatred.  Durban wants to criminalize any criticism of groups that say they are acting on behalf of Islam.  Religions do not have a monopoly on human sensitivity. There are other symbols, other aspects of people's lives that deserve respect, such as the belief in Jewish national quality, the belief that Jews are entitled to sovereignty in the country where they were born. There should be sensitivity to the issue of burning the Israeli flag, which contains a national and religious symbol. I feel pained when people burn the Israeli flag, the same way a Muslim feels abused when the Koran is mistreated.
JG: Do you think we've reached some sort of point of no return in the questioning of Israel's legitimacy?

JD: There is latent anti-Semitic pressure in the world and Gaza took the lid off. That's one way to look at it. Group hysteria is catching. Gaza gives people the chance to feel morally superior. I mean, look at the Libyan government. Are they saying they're morally superior to Israel? For the Libyan people it's very important that there's one speck, one human area, where you're worth something - you're morally superior to the Jews. It's a confirmation of worthiness. The average Libyan is not having a very good time most days. So it's good to have a scapegoat. This is what Durban is about.