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(photo credit: AP [file])
UN officials involved in planning this month's World Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II, pledged on Monday that it "will not be a hate-fest."
The event, scheduled for April 20 to 24 in Geneva, has critics worried it will repeat the anti-Israel rhetoric seen during a 2001 session held in the South African city of Durban, which prompted both the US and Israel to walk out.
Jessica Neuwirth, the director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, acknowledged to reporters that the 2001 event had been "marred by acts of anti-Semitism."
"The Durban II conference will not be a hate-fest - rather, it will be a celebration of tolerance," Neuwirth said at a press conference held at UN headquarters.
Israel has already said it will boycott the gathering, and both the US and Canada have said they will not attend, though US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has indicated that may change depending on how the draft resolutions are worded.
Neuwirth told the press some of the criticism had "done an injustice" to the aims of the conference, which she said was meant to focus on erasing problems of xenophobia and intolerance that can lead to genocide.
Both she and her deputy, Craig Mokhiber, urged those with concerns to read the documents rather than listen to "political" debate surrounding the conference.
"There is nothing in the current document that identifies Israel as a racist state by any means," Mokhiber said.
Talks are continuing on the text, which was revised last month to drop references to Israel, defamation of religion and reparations for slavery, in an effort to make the conference documents more palatable to the US.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters last week in Geneva that the conference may still be undermined if Arab lobbying groups insist on restoring some of those references.