Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Defends Withdrawal from Racism Conference - 2001-09-04


The United States has said again that it withdrew from U.N. anti-racism conference in South Africa because the meeting's proposed final document included anti-Israeli language. But, Arab groups blame the United States for failing to compromise on the issue.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States and Israel walked out of the conference Monday because the meeting's draft declaration included a condemnation of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. "It is an unfortunate throwback to the old days where these conferences worked in a counterproductive fashion," he said. "This has been a lost opportunity for America and people throughout the world who are concerned about racism, and it is unfortunate that people in this conference brought it to the point where America and Israel had no choice but to leave the conference."

Arab delegates at the conference insisted on including language attacking "the racist practices of Zionism" and calling Israel's treatment of Palestinians a "new kind of apartheid." Zionism is the movement that helped found the modern state of Israel. Mr. Fleischer called that language anti-Semitic. "I think there is no question that at a conference that should have been dedicated to fighting intolerance, the language that it has chosen to use in describing Israel is laced with intolerance," he said.

President Bush said repeatedly the United States would not take part in a conference that isolates a "friend and strong ally" in Israel. He did send a state department official to the start of the conference in hopes of convincing organizers to drop the anti-Israeli language.

When delegates refused, Secretary of State Colin Powell withdrew the official on Monday. Mr. Powell said he did so with regret "because of the importance of the international fight against racism." But he said, "you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language."

U.S. and Norwegian diplomats met with Palestinian and other Arab officials to try and amend the language. Arab leaders say the Bush administration failed to compromise by insisting only that Israel and the Palestinians return to the peace process without mentioning the Israeli army's role in the latest round of violence.