State Department: 'Durban II' text changes not enough

US official says document doesn't offer basis to rejoin negotiating process.

james warlick 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
james warlick 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The changes made to the "Durban II" anti-racism document have so far been insufficient to induce America to return to the preparatory meetings for the UN-sponsored conference where it will be released, a senior US State Department official told The Jerusalem Post Friday. The United States, Israel, Canada and Italy had all planned to boycott the World Conference Against Racism to be held in Geneva next month because the document contained language singling out Israel and perceived as anti-Semitic. The US was also concerned about language prohibiting the defamation of religion, which it believed violates free speech rights. With the EU also threatening to skip the event, which follows up on the anti-racism conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, the drafters released a revised version last week that toned down and removed much of the Israel-specific language. Still, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs James Warlick said that even with the changes, "There's certainly been no decision for us to rejoin the negotiating process on the basis of this document." While he noted that State Department lawyers are continuing to review the document, he also said, "It remains clear that we will come back only when we are confident that Durban is going to address real issues of racism." Israeli officials have labeled the revisions "totally unacceptable," pointing out that the document begins by affirming the 2001 Durban document, which links the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with racism. In a move that worried some members of the pro-Israel community, America dispatched two diplomats to spend a week participating in preparatory meetings earlier in the month. Israel was concerned the diplomats would be seen as condoning a process demonizing the Jewish state, but was relieved to see the US abandon the draft discussions when improvements weren't forthcoming. "We knew it wasn't going to change overnight, but we wanted to see if there was the political will there to really work with us to prevent this conference from being hijacked," said Warlick, noting that US officials had pressed the issue with 30 different countries' UN delegations in Geneva and also raised the subjects "at a very senior level" in capitals around the world. "Our conclusion was that there was just not the political will to work with us. Rather than give legitimacy to a conference that has another agenda - not racism - but another agenda, we decided that we would step back." At the same time, Warlick did not express concern that American participation would legitimize another UN structure Israel has felt demonized by, the Human Rights Council. Perennially singled out for condemnation while dictatorships in North Korea, Cuba and China go without censure, Israel has long supported shunning the HRC. But the Obama administration recently announced it would play an observer role in the council, and there is a possibility it will run for a seat on the council this spring. "We're sitting behind our nameplate. We're fully participating in discussions. We're co-sponsoring resolutions," Warlick said of the new US role. He agreed that the focus on Israel needed to change and defended the US presence as the best way to achieve that goal. "We need to speak out," he argued. "We have spoken up to defend some countries. We have spoken up to criticize. "So in terms of legitimacy, we don't want to see the Human Rights Council legitimizing unfair criticism. That's where our voice counts. That's why we will speak up and have our voice heard."