JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will not participate in the Durban II anti-racism conference, Tzipi Livni said.
Israel’s foreign minister made the announcement during an address Wednesday to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities of North America.
The Durban Review Conference scheduled for Geneva in 2009 is a follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban in September 2001. The Durban I conference degenerated into a forum attacking Israel and called Zionism a form of racism.
"During recent months, we expressed the hope that the language of hatred will not repeat itself; we declared that we will not agree to the singling out of Israel, and we will object to incitement and condemnation of Israel," Livni said. "Despite our efforts and those of friendly countries, for whose position we are grateful, the conference appears to be heading once again towards becoming an anti-Israeli tribunal, which has nothing to do with fighting racism.
"In view of this situation, Israel will not participate and will not legitimize the Review Conference, which will be used as a platform for further anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity. We call upon the international community not to participate in a conference which seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of the ‘fight against racism.’ "
The Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor praised the Israeli government’s decision not to participate, saying it "sets an important benchmark."
"It is now clear that any government or NGO that provides greater legitimacy to this destructive farce also contributes to the destruction of universal human rights and to rising anti-Semitism through the singling out of Israel," said Gerald Steinberg, the group’s executive director.
Defending the pace of the negotiations she has led with the Palestinians, Livni said more time is needed.
"Don’t force us to do something which is against our interests," she said. "The idea is that this historical reconciliation is the responsibility of the leadership of only two peoples and not the entire international community."
Livni, who heard the same rousing applause that greeted Likud Party chief Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day, said the G.A. "is about tikkun olam," using the Hebrew term for repairing the world. "Tikkun olam needs to start in doing something for yourself, in understanding better who you are, before you are doing for the others.
"We need not to forget the ultimate goal of the State of Israel," she said. "We need to keep the nature of the State of Israel, the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state because this is the raison d’etre of the State of Israel."
But, she emphasized, "it’s not a matter of religion. It is more a matter of nationality. A Jewish state is not a monopoly of rabbis. It’s what we are; it’s what each and every one of us feels inside."