CAPE TOWN, June 19 (JTA) South African Jewish groups are concerned that an upcoming environmental summit in Johannesburg could turn into another Israel-bashing session under United Nations sponsorship. A meeting of several Jewish organizations has been scheduled for the end of June in Jerusalem to prepare for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 26-Sept. 4. Some 60,000 people are expected to attend “Earth Summit 2,” which comes 10 years after a similar conference in Rio de Janeiro. The fear is that the conference could repeat, or even surpass, the anti-Semitism that characterized last year’s U.N. conference against racism, which was held in Durban, South Africa. Russell Gaddin, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, warned of the possible danger earlier this year. “While the focus of the conference is officially to be on issues relating to economic development and the environment, we know from experience that it could quite easily be turned into a platform from which to attack Israel,” Gaddin said. “World Jewry was caught off balance by the Durban conference, and Jewish leaders evidently realize that the same mistake must not be made twice.” The board has adopted a proactive approach, including meeting with Mohammed Valli Moosa, the South African minister of environmental affairs and tourism, and arranging media tours of local Jewish outreach programs. Moosa has reassured the board that the South African government will not allow the conference to turn into Durban redux. Similar assurances have been forthcoming from the local committee arranging the nongovernmental part of the summit. One member of the committee is Yehuda Kay, national director of the board. Whether Israel’s opponents will abide by these good intentions is another matter. Last year, the NGO portion of the conference saw some of the worst anti-Israel and anti-Semitic outbursts ever in South Africa. In the past year, anti-Israel forces have attempted to hijack several international forums to attack Israel, including meetings ostensibly devoted to children, the elderly, soccer and medicine. In the preparatory meetings leading up to last year’s anti-racism conference, anti-Israel accusations were made that were then placed on the table in Durban. At preparatory meetings for this year’s summit, various allegations of Israeli actions that have damaged the environment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been leveled, among them: Hampering sustainable development through occupation; Theft of natural resources, such as water; Cutting down Palestinian trees and olive groves; Dumping toxic waste in Palestinian-ruled areas. None of these accusations was raised at the final high-level preparatory meeting in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this month but several Muslim countries called for an end to “foreign occupation” in “Palestine.”
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