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U.S. Durban II attendance unlikely, Jewish leaders assured

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Obama administration officials reconfirmed to Jewish leaders that the Untied States is unlikely to participate in the Durban II conference.

Participants in the conference call between the administration and Jewish leaders said administration officials reaffirmed a State Department statement on Monday that said that while the government believes there have been improvements in the conference’s draft document, the changes were insufficient to allow the U.S. to take part in the U.N.-sponsored anti-racism conference.

Specifically, the State Department statement noted that the document cannot reaffirm the 2001 Durban conference’s draft document — which, by mentioning the "plight of the Palestinian people," places Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the context of race – and that the U.S. cannot support restrictions on freedom of expression that could result from the document’s language related to "incitement" to religious hatred.

The statement did commend the elimination of the language singling out Israel and passages calling for slavery reparations and supporting the concept of "defamation of religion." The statement also did not rule out U.S. attendance at the parley if those conditions were met before the conference’s commencement on Monday.

According to one participant on the call, administration officials said the upbeat tone of the State Department statement — which expressed hope that U.S. concerns would be addressed — was to provide encouragement to those working to make the document better, and not meant to imply that the administration was any closer to participation.

The call comes after anonymously sourced articles in the Israeli press reported that the U.S. was considering participating in the conference.

The conference on racism, scheduled for April 20-24 in Geneva, is a follow-up to the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. pulled out of that gathering after it turned into an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate fest.

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