Palestinian Issue Threatens to Politicize UN ‘decade for Women’ Conference

The United States delegation to the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women in Copenhagen July 14-30 has been instructed to devote their efforts to the urgent agenda of the conference and not succumb to subversion by outside efforts to politicize the conference over the issue of Palestinian women. The issues with which the U.S. delegation is to concern itself are better health services, expanded education and increased employment.

Esther R. Landa, immediate past president of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and a member of President Carter’s Advisory Committee for Women, has been named to the U.S. delegation. Landa said that the official U.S. position is “to keep the conference focussed on the substantive issues” and “to discuss them from the perspective of women of the whole world.”

The problem of the Palestinian women’s issue comes as a result of the United Nations General Assembly voting on a document calling for the addition of three issues to be discussed at the conference apartheid, Palestinian women and refugees. As these additions were agreed upon by the General Assembly, the removal of any one is also under its jurisdiction. According to Landa, the Assembly will not convene before the conference, and even if it did, its members would probably not agree to combine the Palestinian women’s issue with that of refugees in general.

The Palestinian document itself was prepared by the Economic Commission for Western Asia, a section of the United Nations Economic and Social Council that has admitted the Palestine Liberation Organization into full membership and has excluded Israel.

ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS NOTED

At a State Department sponsored meeting this month in Washington, Chiae Herzig, co-president of the Women’s Division of the American Jewish Congress, spoke on behalf of the Leadership Conference of National Jewish Women’s Organizations. Referring to the document which used language condemning Israel, Herzig said, “not only Israel but the rights of women everywhere are victimized by these tactics.” She continued by pointing out that “delegates subject to Arab-Soviet influence will come carefully instructed. There will be no way for Israel to escape condemnation and no way to prevent the subversion of the conference from its true purpose to one that serves the propaganda needs and purposes of the PLO.”

Sarah Weddington, co-chairman of the U.S. delegation along with the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Donald F. McHenry, called the document “very one-sided” and added that the U.S. delegation “will work with other delegations in opposing other resolutions based on the language and analysis in that document.”

The conference is divided into two sections: one composed of official delegations representing their respective countries as well as Non-Governmental Organizations with consultative status at the UN. The other is a forum, open to anyone who wishes to attend. The forum meets concurrently with the governmental section and provides the participants with workshops, exhibits and discussions where anyone is free to speak on any of the issues. It does not, however, issue any formal resolutions or statements.

At present there are 700 American women registered for the forum with several weeks still remaining before the conference begins. Among these are representatives of various Jewish organizations including NCJW, Hadassah, American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee. Jewish women from Venezuela, Peru, Finland, Sweden, Holland, England and other European countries are also planning to attend.

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