I did not follow the ICERD debate closely until recently. I felt like the issue rose to national prominence out of nowhere, and then it died a spectacular death before I properly understood what it was all about. If you had asked me what ICERD was, I would be able to mutter some keywords like anti-discrimination before I would exhaust my time trying to be intelligent and having to google Wikipedia to understand it.

Nevertheless, as a layperson with liberal bias, I would gravitate automatically towards supporting ICERD ratification. I consider myself as a liberal, even if these days, some of those who claimed to be liberals in the past feel some kind of political reluctance to wear the label anymore, lest they become superliberals and attract the wrath of their political idols.

And so, I do feel slight disappointment how the ICERD debate has played out. Slight, because I do not think ICERD is one of the most important things in the to do list.

To be honest, while I do not believe in the eye-rolling allegations by its opponents that ICERD would require amending Article 153 of the Constitution, it is unclear to me — and even to other liberals who I have talked to and are more invested in the issues than me — what would entail after its ratification. That makes me feel that a ratification is more of a signalling exercise than anything else. The whole ICERD debate generates more heat than light, partly because the so-what questions have not been addressed, and so giving space to red herring counterargument like “Israel signed ICERD.”

In the end, I think there are many reforms that are more important and urgent that liberals should push first, like electoral reforms including local council elections, instead of ICERD.

But for liberals out that who invested more on the ICERD issue, please do not feel too discouraged. I am reluctant to use this argument but perhaps it is not the right time for it. Perhaps we should continue to do what liberals have been doing: conversations, fora, awareness, understanding, empathy on the ground on values like equality.

That kind of activism would prepare the grounds for a more liberal societal attitude than a sudden ratification of ICERD would do. After all, for changes like these to happen, it usually needs to come from the bottom-up, not from the top-down.

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