United States and Israel withdraw from racism conference
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) – The United States and Israel pulled out of the World Conference Against Racism on Monday, denouncing efforts to condemn Israel in the meeting’s proposed declaration.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had remained in Washington and was not part of the U.S. delegation, denounced the draft declaration’s ”hateful language.”
”Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that this conference could have made to it,” said the statement, which was released in Durban.
”But following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, and others, I am convinced that it will not be possible,” the statement added.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced in Israel that the Jewish state was also pulling out of the conference because of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments.
”The Durban conference is a farce,” Peres said.
The Arab League had led a concerted effort to single out Israel and blame it in unacceptable terms for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
The European Union said it would stay at the conference and endorsed a new proposal by South Africa to draft completely new text on the Middle East.
Several Jewish delegations pulled out, according to Shimon Samuels, chair of the Jewish caucus.
”The conference turned into a tribunal against Israel,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement. ”The conference against racism turned into a racist conference against Israel.”
Soon after the U.S. announcement, several hundred angry demonstrators protested outside the conference center, chanting ”Shame, shame, U.S.A.”
Norway and Canada had attempted to mediate a compromise between the Arab states and Israel on the conference’s draft declaration. The United States was part of those talks.
This is the third world conference on racism, but the first the United States and Israel had attended. Both countries boycotted the 1978 and 1983 conferences in part because of similar anti-Israel language.
The draft document recognized with ”deep concern the increase of racist practices of Zionism,” and said Zionism ”is based on racial superiority.” Israel is the only country mentioned specifically in the document, which accuses the Jewish state of ”practices of racial discrimination.”
Palestinian Ambassador Salman el Herfi said the Arab delegations had been very reasonable, but the U.S. delegation had refused to compromise.
”It’s sad. It’s sad they didn’t leave room for dialogue, they didn’t leave room for flexibility,” he said.
Herfi accused the United States of pulling out because of its own refusal to face up to responsibility for slavery and the injustices done to Native Americans.
”Their withdrawal will not affect the success of the conference. The conference will succeed,” he said.
Alan Baker, an Israeli delegate who was involved in the talks, said Norway had proposed ”very general language” that would call on all parties in the Middle East to end the violence and return to negotiations.
But the Arab countries argued for including references to the ”racist policies” of Israel in talks that were ”very tense,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, visiting Rwanda on a trip to help end fighting in Congo, called the U.S. withdrawal ”unfortunate.”
”In these circumstances each country should be at the table to discuss,” he said. ”I would have preferred that the U.S. was there. I regret their decision to withdraw.”
South Africa, the conference host, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the secretary-general of the conference, also said in separate statements they regretted the U.S. decision.
”Nevertheless, I believe that the journey we began must continue until the end of the conference with a view to achieving a successful outcome,” Robinson said in a statement.
The debate over referring to Israeli practices and Zionism, the movement that founded the Jewish state, has threatened to overwhelm the conference.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, attending the conference as a member of the Black Leadership Forum, said he was disappointed that President Bush allowed the debate over Israel to determine whether the United State would participate.
”In many ways, the American delegation never walked in,” Jackson said.
Human rights organizations at the conference also condemned the U.S. withdrawal.
”This is going to be a big disappointment for victims of racism everywhere in the world. The United States is using a political smoke screen to avoid dealing with the many very real issues at this conference,” said Reed Brody, who led the conference delegation for Human Rights Watch.
Tom Lantos, a U.S. congressman who was a member of the delegation, said he expected up to four dozen other delegations to reject the inclusion of anti-Israel language in the conference’s final document and program of action.
A conference that should have been about horrible discrimination around the world has been ”hijacked by extremist elements for its own purposes,” Lantos said.
”The conference will stand self-condemned,” he added.
Powell said he regretted pulling his midlevel delegation out of the conference.
”The United States and delegations interested in a successful outcome had worked productively in Durban on the other key issues of the conference and were hopeful that they could be resolved,” he said. ”I wish that it could have turned out more successfully.”
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