The Obama administration announced Friday that it is boycotting the Durban II conference on racism unless there are significant changes to what the State Department called “unsalvageable” anti-Israeli resolutions.
The decision by the State Department pleased Kadima leader and acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Knesset Member Silvan Shalom, Livni's predecessor, who said it is "a sign for the entire world.” Livni stated that the policy move "must lead the way for more countries that share the same values” to boycott the convention, scheduled for April. Canada already has said it will not participate.
Israel has been concerned by the new American government’s change in policy to participate in preliminary committee meetings for the convention, which is to be held in Geneva but bears the name of the South African city where the first meeting was held in 2001. The United States walked out of it because of harsh anti-Israeli resolutions.
The proposed motions for the April meeting single out Israel for its presence in Judea and Samaria and include a Palestinian Authority proposal for “international protection of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory” effectively claiming that Arabs are victims of alleged Israeli racism and that the U.N. should protect them.
The Durban planning committee, chaired by Libya, also rejected a European Union (EU) condemnation of Holocaust denial.
The State Department announcement came after growing domestic protests of the Obama administration’s participation in the planning committee. It would reconsider its boycott if the conference drops its reference to any specific country, which so far names Israel but no other nation, and if it does not affirm the 2001 Durban resolutions that singled out Israel.
"Unfortunately, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "As a result, the United States will not participate in the forthcoming negotiations on this text, nor will we be able to participate in a conference that is based on this text."
The Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations praised the American government for backing out of the conference. An American Jewish Congress statement said, "Having made a good faith effort to fix what was wrong with the Conference, and having unsurprisingly been rebuffed by those whose agenda is not combating racism, but attacking Israel and the Western values of freedom of speech and thought, the Administration has wisely decided that U.S. attendance at this Conference will not contribute in any way to the battle against racism."