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Jews Protest Selection of Montreal for U.N. Parley on the Palestinians

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Canadian Jewish groups have reacted angrily to a plan for this city to host a United Nations conference on the Palestinians in late June.

Spokespeople for various Jewish organizations said such an event would do nothing to encourage resolution of the Middle East conflict.

“We are condemning it,” said Marilyn Wainberg, national president of B’nai Brith Canada.

“We feel it should not be held and that the U.N. has clearly lost its proper focus. World attention should be focused on settling the Kurdish problem instead of another session of Israel-bashing,” she said.

The conference, organized by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, has been held annually since 1984 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

The conferences normally attract a few hundred people, including some Israelis, representing various peace, educational, relief and other non-governmental organizations, according to U.N. publications.

A U.N. official said the purpose of the conference is to encourage discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ways in which groups could support and aid Palestinians living in the Israeli-administered territories.

“The (U.N.) General Assembly has given a mandate for these meetings to take place, and both the General Assembly and the Security Council are involved in the search for peace in the region,” said the official.

The official said conference organizers had wanted to change the meeting site so as to encourage a wider range of participants, but until now neither the United States nor Canada has been willing to agree to host the conference.

‘A VERY BIASED EVENT’

Should the Canadian government approve Montreal as this year’s conference site, it would have to provide security for delegates under the standard U.N.-host country agreement. But otherwise no financial outlays would be necessary, said a U.N. official.

Officials from the Canada-Israel Committee expressed dissatisfaction that they first heard of the proposed conference site through the news media, even though they hold frequent meetings with officials of Canada’s External Affairs Department.

They also said they were skeptical about the potential value of such a conference, whose tentative theme this year is “Protecting Lives and Promoting Peace.”

“From all explanations in the media, it seems to be a very biased event,” said Robert Ritter, executive director of the CIC’s national office in Ottawa.

“It is more of a polarizing and radicalizing initiative, focusing on exacerbating the conflict rather than resolving it,” he said.

Thomas Hecht, chairman of the CIC’s Quebec region, agreed that “a conference of this type at this time is more than ill-advised,” especially because of the current peace efforts in the Middle East.

(JTA correspondent Aliza Marcus at the United Nations contributed to this report.)

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