Israel intends to boycott next September’s one-day summit at the UN General Assembly in New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the contentious Durban conference on racism, the Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday night.
“The Durban Conference of 2001, with its anti-Semitic undertones and displays of hatred for Israel and the Jewish world, left us with scars that will not heal quickly,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
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“As long as the meeting is defined as part of the infamous ‘Durban process,’ Israel will not participate,” the ministry said of the event that has been dubbed “Durban III.” The statement came a day after the UN General Assembly in New York approved a resolution, by a vote of 104 to 22, with 33 abstentions, to hold the summit on September 21 during the assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.
Already last month, Canada announced that it would boycott the summit. Israel, however, waited until after the UN approved on Friday a resolution that firmly linked the event to the 2001 UN antiracism conference in Durban, South Africa, which was dominated by anti-Semitic attacks against Israel, some of which likened Zionism to racism.
The US and Israel walked out midway through that conference.
Israel at the time protested the atmosphere of hate and the fact that the final 62-page document singled out Israel.
The United States and Israel also boycotted a follow-up meeting in Geneva in April 2009, known as Durban II.
They were joined in that boycott by Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Many African and Muslim countries have lobbied for a commemoration event.
Israel has said that it supports the battle against racism but that such efforts should not be linked to the initial Durban conference, which was hijacked and turned into a vehicle to attack Israel.
The Foreign Ministry said on Saturday evening that it expected the UN and its member states “to deal appropriately with the serious manifestations of racism throughout the world, and to reject attempts to once again divert world attention from this dangerous phenomenon by means of cheap politicization.
“Israel is part of the international struggle against racism,” the ministry said. “The Jewish people was itself a victim of racism throughout history.
“Israel regrets that a resolution on an important subject – elimination of racism – has been diverted and politicized by the automatic majority at the UN, by linking it to the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (2001) that many states would prefer to forget,” it continued.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice issued a statement explaining her country’s decision to oppose the resolution.
“We voted ‘no’ because the Durban Declaration process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we do not want to see that commemorated,” her statement said.
“The United States is fully committed to upholding the human rights of all individuals and to combating racial discrimination, intolerance and bigotry. We stand ready to work with all partners to uphold human rights and fight racism around the world,” the statement read.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, expressed “profound regret” that there will be a Durban commemoration.
“The global campaign against racism has been hijacked by countries that have little regard for human rights and whose primary goal is to advance highly political agendas,” Harris said.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying the summit “will undermine rather than advance the fight against discrimination.”
ADL director Abraham Foxman called on governments “to announce that they will not participate” in the conference. From its inception, “the Durban process was tainted by the very bias it purported to work against,” he said.
Foxman added, “Durban marked the start of a new chapter in the vilification and delegitimization of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
We recall how many abused the conference as a platform to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a racial conflict and their incendiary branding of Israel as an apartheid state.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based UN Watch, said on Friday that “the 2001 Durban conference and its progeny have become staging grounds for contemporary bigots and bullies – like the regimes of Sudan and Iran – to cover up their own racism and repression, and to scapegoat the US, the West and Israel.”
Neuer added, “Based on past experience, we fear that the banner of human rights and anti-racism will be hijacked by Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other dictators to deflect attention from their crimes, and to incite anti-Western and anti- Semitic hatred.”
Jordana Horn in New York, AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.