Pressure is mounting on Britain to pull out of next month’s Durban II conference, an anti-racism assembly being described as a “shameful event” that critics say paints Israel as a racist nation.
America’s announcement on Friday that it will be boycotting the event has been praised by world Jewish leaders.
And yesterday, Israeli Embassy spokesman Lior Ben Dor expressed hope that the UK would follow suit. He said: “Of course we hope the UK will make the right decision, i.e. to not take part in this ridiculous Israeli bashing conference which is going to have a clear anti-Semitic agenda.”
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor urged “EU countries and leaders… to make a strong and clear stand against the Durban Review Conference”.
He added: “Durban II, as it currently stands, is an affront to all those seeking to ensure human rights and the eradication of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
“We applaud the United States for refusing to participate in this kangaroo court against Israel.”
Meanwhile, Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies, sent a letter on Monday to Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown “seeking clarification” on the UK’s stance.
Grunwald also welcomed Lord Malloch Brown’s statements during last month’s London conference combating anti-Semitism, where the minister called the original Durban conference “a low point of international affairs”.
The minister spoke yesterday at the UN’s Human Rights Council, where he reiterated the UK’s commitment to ensuring Durban does not turn into an anti-Israel tirade, saying “The UK will find unacceptable any attempt to use the Durban process to trivialise or deny the Holocaust, or to renegotiate agreements on the fight against anti-Semitism”.
A US delegation attended a review conference in Geneva last month, but withdrew early as “the document being negotiated [went] from bad to worse” with a spokesman for the administration saying: “The current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable. As a result, the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text.”
The administration added that they would be “prepared to re-engage” if the outline for the conference becomes altered to take “a constructive approach to tackling the challenges of racism and discrimination”.
The outcome was welcomed by Jewish representatives, as memories of 2001’s Durban conference in South Africa remain fresh in the minds of many involved, a meeting that saw Israel and the United States walk out in protest over a document naming the Jewish state a racist and apartheid country.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni praised the US government in a statement on Sunday, saying: “Durban II is a cynical conference whose sole purpose is blatant anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment disguised as a battle against racism. The decision of the United States government is a courageous and true reflection of the values held by the leader of the free world and should show the way to other countries who share those values.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S Lauder called the event “shameful”, adding: “Every day it becomes clearer that the Durban Review Conference is not about combating racism, but about promoting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda within the framework of the United Nations.
“The Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserve praise for sending a strong warning signal to the UN. Unfortunately, the efforts by the US administration to ameliorate this process have not succeeded.”
A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said the British government “have expressed similar concerns with the draft outcome document” and commented that “The government has previously expressed its concerns at the direction taken by preparations for the Durban Review Conference”.
He added: “We hope the broader UN membership will respond to the US assessment by seeking to return the focus of preparations to combating racism in the world today thus enhancing the prospect of a consensus outcome.”