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U.S. & Israel abandon U.N. racism conference

DURBAN, South Africa (BP)–The United States and Israel have withdrawn from the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Sept. 3 he had made the decision to recall the U.S. delegation “with regret,” CNSNews.com reported Sept. 4. Powell was soon followed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Powell said he regretted the decision because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the conference could have made to it.

“However, following talks with the U.S. team in Durban and others, I am convinced that will not be possible,” Powell was quoted by CNSNews.com as saying.

“I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we had made too much of the Holocaust; or [suggests] that apartheid exists in Israel; or singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse,” Powell said.

“I am recalling the delegation … . I regret the bizarre show in Durban,” said Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel peace prize with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The two nations’ withdrawal was met with condemnation from various non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, along with more muted “regrets” from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, CNSNews.com reported. South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, said he believed the decision to withdraw was an even worse mistake than deciding to send low-level delegations in the first place.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, speaking to reporters at the conference media center, said the U.S. government “sends a low-level delegation and a high-profile pullout” simply because of the raging debate over the Middle East, CNSNews.com reported.

“We have missed a great moment to address world poverty. As a government we never led from the front,” Jackson said, claiming that Washington had used the Middle East issue as a tactic to avoid discussing the issues of reparations, slavery and the slave trade.

U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D.-Calif., who is attending the conference, defended Washington’s decision, CNSNews.com reported.

“Discussions with the Arab and Palestinian groups in Durban on removing anti-Israeli language in the draft conference declaration were unsuccessful,” Lantos said.

“They were hell-bent on torpedoing this conference. The conference is destroyed by the Arab groups and not by the U.S … . This conference has been a conference against Israel and we will not be part of it.”

CNSNews.com reported that Israel issued a scathing attack on the United Nations, calling comments made by Secretary General Kofi Annan prior to the conference “the most racist declaration by a major international organization since the Second World War.”

Annan had accused Israel of using the Holocaust as an excuse for the continued persecution of Palestinians.

The head of the Israeli delegation, Mordechai Yedid, said, “We came to serve the victims of racism, but have witnessed yet another atrocity committed [against us].”
Based on reporting by CNSNews.com correspondent Mark Klusener from Durban. Used by permission.

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