The United States announced on Saturday night its final decision to pull out “with regret” from the Durban II conference on human rights because of organizers’ insistence on singling out Israel for criticism. Left-wing activists and black leaders had urged President Barack Obama to allow U.S. delegates to attend the conference in Geneva.
The first World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in 2001, was dubbed "Durban I" because it was held in Durban, South Africa. The United States walked out of that gathering in protest over its anti-Israel agenda.
Fierce debates the past several weeks have focused on attempts by several Western countries to tone down the anti-Israel agenda planned for Durban II, slated to be held this week in Geneva, but the final draft resolutions remain aimed at Israel while promoting the agenda of the Palestinian Authority.
Israel, Canada, Italy and Australia already have announced they will not attend; several other European nations have warned they also will boycott the gathering if the language of proposed resolutions is not softened.
The conference is scheduled to begin on Monday, the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, is slated to address the delegates.
In announcing the American government’s decision, State Department spokesman Robert Wood praised the organizers for removing several specific references in resolutions defaming religion. However, he added that there are too many other problems concerning other issues, such as free speech and the proposal to affirm the Durban I resolutions that harshly condemned Israel while ignoring human rights violations in Arab countries and in South America and Africa.
"Unfortunately, it now seems certain these remaining concerns will not be addressed in the document to be adopted by the conference next week," Wood said. He added that the 2001 document “singles out one particular conflict [Israel and the PA] and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Black U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Democrat) said the Black Caucus, which she heads, was “deeply dismayed” at the decision to boycott Durban II. She explained that boycotting the conference makes it more difficult for the U.S. to influence the U.N. Human Rights Council.