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United States to Skip Upcoming Anti-Israel U.N. Conference
Earlier this month, the United States announced that it will not attend the 10-year commemoration of a U.N. conference purportedly devoted to combating racism, because the conference and follow-up meetings included "ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism." The decision to skip the conference, scheduled to take place in New York on September 21, was stated in a letter from Acting Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Macmanus to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Gillibrand and 17 of her colleagues had written to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to ask that the United States refrain from participating in the event.
BackgroundThe conference, officially called the "World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance," was first held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Describing the meeting, now known as Durban I, the late congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos said it was "the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I have seen since the Nazi period."
Rather than dealing with human rights violations in countries such as Iran and Syria, the conference became a staging ground for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment. The United States, Canada and Israel withdrew in response to documents circulated at the conference that referred to Israel as an "apartheid state" and equated Zionism with racism. While the final Durban Declaration included recognition of Israel's right to live in security and expressed concern about international anti-Semitism, the atmosphere during the conference undermined efforts to build a global consensus to combat racism.
Durban IIThe follow-up to the Durban I Conference, nicknamed Durban II, took place in Geneva in 2009. It followed the same path as its predecessor. Some of the world's worst human rights violators, including Cuba, Libya and Iran, chaired the conference's planning committee. The draft declarations featured the same anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric that was prominently featured at the first conference. After unsuccessfully attempting to change the course of Durban II, the Obama administration joined eight other countries in boycotting the conference.
Problems unrelated to Israel also arose in the preparations for Durban II. For example, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)—a group of 56 Muslim countries—wanted the final declaration to support a ban on criticism of Islam anywhere in the world. Western countries argued against this, saying it undermined free speech, and it was ultimately dropped from the declaration.
As expected, the event itself devolved into an anti-Semitic hatefest. In the distributed English version of his opening speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referred to the Holocaust as an "ambiguous and dubious question." He also described Israel as "completely racist" and accused the West of using the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggression against Palestinians. Ahmadinejad’s comments led to a mass walkout of delegates, including all those representing the European Union countries in attendance. The result was, as the BBC put it, a "public relations disaster" for the United Nations.
U.S. Refusal to ParticipateAs soon as the upcoming Durban conference ("Durban III") was mandated by a U.N. General Assembly resolution, Western officials raised concerns about its content. Sen. Gillibrand led a bipartisan group of 18 senators calling on the United States to refrain from taking part, in a letter sent to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice. The senators highlighted the fact that the event will take place close to the tenth anniversary and location of the 9/11 attacks.
The Obama administration's decision to boycott the conference follows Canada and Israel, which have already declared their intention not to participate, and is in line with U.S. actions in response to the two previous Durban conferences. With this decision, the U.S. government has signaled that it is unwilling to lend legitimacy to international conferences that exclusively and obsessively censure Israel and the West.
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