US reaches out to Jewish leaders on 'Durban II'

Senior officials reassure leaders US participation in the conference was coordinated with Israeli government.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Senior White House and State Department officials held a conference call with American Jewish leaders Monday to reassure them over the administration's decision to participate in preliminary discussions about the United Nation's World Conference Against Racism conference in Geneva this April. Jewish leaders were told that Washington's decision to participate in the conference was being coordinated with the Israeli government, and that the US presence was an effort to change the direction of the conference, dubbed "Durban II," according to participants in the call who would not be identified. The US officials said that they were "under no illusions" that the nature of the gathering - which featured anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic material in its first incarnation held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, causing the Bush administration to pull its participation - would be easy to change. Israel and many Jewish organizations have objected to the April conference and some of its preliminary material, which echoes the 2001 parley. Several had urged the Bush administration to announce it would boycott the event, but no official announcement was made. This weekend, the State Department announced it would be attending the preliminary talks to "work with other countries that want the conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world," cautioning that, "our participation in these informal negotiations does not indicate - and should not be misconstrued to indicate - that the United States will participate" in the April event. While several Jewish leaders said they were pleased by the outreach conveyed by Monday's call, others were chagrined that the US would participate in any level in the conference discussions. ADL National Director Abe Foxman urged the Obama administration not to attend the preparatory meeting, saying that the draft declaration under negotiation unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation. "The Durban Review process is deeply biased against Israel and there is no likelihood of a good outcome," he said. "Several European countries and other nations have pressed hard to delete the offending passages without success. Many of them have said they will not participate if the changes are not made," he noted. "US entry into the process at this time risks extending the negotiations and delaying the withdrawal of those countries." Still, others felt better about the attention the administration is paying to the matter after hearing the officials' views. "The overall feeling coming out [of the call] was very good," said Hadar Susskind of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization which has not taken a position on US representation at the conference because its members are divided on the subject. "They are very aware of what the concerns of the community are and they're not going into this blind." "We are hopeful the administration will be successful in changing the direction of the conference away from a rank anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist operation," said United Jewish Communities Washington Director William Daroff, who also wouldn't speak about the specifics of the conference call. "We also hope that, if the administration is unsuccessful in changing the direction of the conference, they will withdraw at the right time."