'Durban II' draft drops Israel criticism

EU threatened not to attend summit unless Muslims end attempts to make it an Israel smear campaign.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
The UN on Tuesday cut out recently added references to Israel, defamation of religion and reparations for slavery from its draft declaration for next month's Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II. The move comes after the United States and Italy announced their intention not to participate and the European Union threatened as a bloc to boycott the event. The changes are seen as an attempt to entice the US and the EU to attend the conference scheduled for April 20 to 24 in Geneva. "We believe this shortened text represents a solid and meaningful basis for negotiations," Doune Porter, spokeswoman for the UN in Geneva, said in a telephone interview. "It's a little too early to see what the reception will be, but this is a significant step forward that has support." The new draft declaration, released on Tuesday in Geneva by Russian conference coordinator Yuri Boychenko, addressed concerns put forward by the EU and the US. It was shortened to 17 pages from the previous 45. Talks will continue on the text. But Israel, which along with Canada, plans to boycott the event, said it did not believe that this was a positive step forward. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Roni Leshno-Yaar said that in the last few months Iran had attempted to add in references to Israel. The new paragraphs, he said, went beyond what had been in the text that was adopted in the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place in Durban, South Africa. The draft text for the follow up conference in Geneva states in its first paragraph that it affirms that document, Leshno-Yaar said. "We have come full loop and we are back to square one, where we reaffirm and single out Israel as a racist state," he said. "What we have gone through is that the Iranians and their friends have loaded the draft document with all kinds of paragraphs and then removed them, hoping we would forget that ancient thing, which is back in full force in the first paragraph," Leshno-Yaar said. He added that there was still a month to go until the conference and there was plenty of time for additional anti-Israel language to be added to the draft. "We should have our eyes wide open and watch further," he said. He said he was also concerned about attempts to delegitimize Israel by NGOs working on the sidelines of the conference. "It leaves me with a bad taste and a sense that we are going backwards," Leshno-Yaar said. Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the US mission to the UN, said that new draft version still affirmed the outcome of the first UN conference on racism, in Durban. The US and Israel walked out of that meeting to protest the outcome document. Then-US secretary of state Colin Powell denounced the conference text's "hateful language" that "singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse." Bloomberg contributed to this report.