Accessibility links

Israel Threatens to Walk Out of Racism Conference - 2001-09-02


Israel has warned it could walk out of the World Conference Against Racism because of Arab attempts to have the Jewish state condemned by the meeting.

It is a small, but vocal, group of Palestinians outside the conference-center press briefing room. They accuse Israel of being a racist apartheid state. Another small group of Jewish students sings their reply.

It is not the first time the two groups have faced off in Durban, and it is not likely to be the last. This time, the police keep things peaceful. But it is an indication of how polarized the two sides have become.

Inside, the Israeli delegation has just ended a news conference. The head of the delegation, Mordechai Yedid, warns that Israel could walk out of the World Conference on Racism unless delegates soften the language of the final conference declaration.

"We are reaching a stage where we have to reconsider our participation, to have to consider whether to walk out from this very conference," he says. "Now as I said, we have not exhausted these diplomatic efforts behind the scenes. We are doing our utmost."

Mr. Yedid says he is very concerned about the status of Israel's relationship with the United Nations. He says he has asked Secretary General Kofi Annan and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene.

The original controversy was over language equating Zionism to racism. Those specific words have been eliminated. But the Israelis claim the spirit of the equation is still in the text.

Alan Baker is a legal advisor to the Israeli government.

"We are very frustrated. We are not succeeding," he says. " The provisions are not being taken out of the text. The opposite. There seems to be a tendency to add... more contradictory provisions to the text."

Israel's threats to walk out of the conference come a day after what some onlookers considered a minor breakthrough. When Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat addressed a plenary session Saturday, he condemned Israeli policies in harsh terms. But he did not call Israel a racist state.

The Israeli delegates dismiss the idea that Mr. Arafat has modified his stance.

Earlier in the day, a member of the U.S. delegation also warned the Americans could walk out of the conference for the same reason. Both countries say behind-the-scenes efforts to find a solution continue, and they hope a walkout will not be necessary.

The Israeli delegates say the Palestinian/Israeli conflict should not be discussed in Durban at all because it is not a matter of racism. They say it is a political, economic, and military conflict, but not a racial.

Critics say the semantics do not matter - this is a conference not just on racism, but on other forms of intolerance that should include Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

XS
SM
MD
LG