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Colin Powell will not attend U.N. Conference On Racism

WASHINGTON (BP)–The State Department said Aug. 27 that Secretary of State Colin Powell will not attend the United Nations Conference on Racism which begins Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa, because of concerns about anti-Israeli language in the draft declaration, CNSNews.com reported Aug. 27.

“It’s clear to us now the secretary will not go to this conference,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Boucher also said the “exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is still being considered.”

Israel also is unlikely to attend the U.N. conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior said Aug. 27, according to a report from CNSNews.com’s Jerusalem bureau.

Unless dramatic changes are made to draft declaration prepared ahead of the conference, Israel will stay away, said Melchior, who was to have led the Israeli delegation to the conference in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.

Despite efforts led by American and Israeli diplomats, the draft text has not been amended to remove a number of contentious references to Israel and Zionism introduced by Arab and Muslim states during preparatory meetings.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is traveling in Austria, spoke with Powell over the weekend, but she offered no details of the conversation.

President Bush told reporters Aug. 24 that an all-out U.S. boycott of the conference is being considered.

“We have made it very clear, through [Secretary of State] Colin Powell’s office, that we will have no representative there, so long as they pick on Israel, as long as they continue to say Zionism is racism. If they use the forum as a way to isolate our friend and strong ally, we will not participate,” the president said at a news conference at his Crawford, Texas ranch.

The Aug. 31-Sept. 7 conference is expected to focus on action-oriented steps to battle racism around the world, and U.S. civil rights groups have encouraged Bush to send a high-level delegation there.

CNSNews.com reported that Beverly LaHaye, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative women’s group, echoed the president’s sentiments by saying, “A number of Third World countries, led by the Arabic-speaking ‘rogue states’ have determined to divert the agenda away from racial discrimination and turn the conference into an anti-Israel free-for-all, claiming that ‘Zionism is racism.’ Of course, that claim itself is racist.”

LaHaye added, “It is an assertion that the Jews, alone among all the nations in the world, are not entitled to their own homeland. It would be a disgrace if a conference against racism were to be hijacked and turned into a festival of anti-Semitism.”

Rep. Tom Lantos, D.-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee applauded Powell’s decision as “courageous,” but said he was “saddened” that the secretary was put in such a position.

“I know this was a very difficult decision for him,” Lantos said. “By allowing a conference against racism to become a conference against Israel, the United Nations — urged by the Arab states — has missed an historic opportunity to take a positive step towards eradicating the scourge of racism.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson expressed confidence Aug. 27, however, that the upcoming conference will produce a new understanding on dealing with past wrongs in order to build a better future, CNSNews.com reported.

“I firmly believe Durban can mark a historic breakthrough,” Robinson said before a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Johannesburg.

“Flexibility is being shown in the search for language on the questions of addressing the past, including slavery and colonialism and the Middle East,” Robinson said. “One thing I would like to reaffirm is that there is a clear understanding that the formulation ‘Zionism equals racism’ has been done away with,” she emphasized.

Robinson underscored the need for wide involvement in the Durban meeting. “We will need the participation of all countries at the highest level possible to demonstrate our determination to fight this plague,” she said.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Robinson observed. “We want the final document of the conference to be a sort of Magna Carta in the fight against racism.”

In Jerusalem, Melchior affirmed, “It is extremely important that we are in Durban, that the Jewish people and the state of Israel should be in the front of any battle against racism and xenophobia” considering the persecution and discrimination suffered by the Jews through history.

But Israel will not be able to attend a conference that is being turned into a “farce,” he said.

“Durban is an attempt to upgrade the hatred against Jews, the total de-legitimization of the state of Israel and the Jewish people — its past, its suffering, what it has been through for the last 2,500 years, the Holocaust, and its present and future.”

About 55 Islamic nations are promoting the inclusion in the final resolution of language criticizing Israel for “racist policies” and reviving the view equating Zionism with racism.

“Zionism equals racism” was the basis of a controversial U.N. General Assembly resolution passed in 1975 and eventually repealed in 1991.

The draft resolution for the Durban gathering runs more than 100 pages. It includes all the points that delegates at various preparatory sessions asked be included. They can only be removed if there is a general consensus and delegates will be asked to accept the resolution as a package, Melchior said.

There is no possibility of the draft being altered before the start of the conference Aug. 31, Melchoir said, although if Israel could get a commitment from the majority of participating countries that the offending passages would be removed at the conference Israel could still attend at some level.

Melchior denied that criticizing Israel constituted anti-Semitism. But he insisted that it was discriminatory to single out a single country in the entire world for “special treatment.” Israel is the only country mentioned specifically for censure in the document.

Melchior also argued that the conference will strike a “major blow” to Mideast peace efforts by turning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an existential one.

“If you claim that the creation of the state of Israel — not Israeli policies, but the creation of the state of Israel — was an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, then you are already on a field where there is nothing to negotiate,” he charged.
Compiled from reporting by CNSNews.com senior staff writer Jim Burns and Jerusalem bureau chief Julie Stahl. Used by permission.

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