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Australia, Germany, Holland boycotting Durban II

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SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia, Germany and Holland will boycott the Durban II anti-racism conference.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith confirmed Sunday that Australia would not attend the Durban Review Conference sponsored by the United Nations opening Monday in Geneva.

"Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views,” he said in a statement.

Germany and Holland also announced Sunday that they are boycotting the conference.

The United States, Israel, Canada and Italy already had decided to boycott this week’s conference, citing concerns that it would become a rerun of the original event in 2001 in South Africa that was marred by anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Israeli and American delegates walked out of the conference in protest.

Smith said the fact that the conference will reaffirm the statement made at the end of the first U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban ruled out Australia’s attendance.

“The 2001 declaration singled out Israel and the Middle East. Australia expressed strong concerns about this at the time. The Australian Government continues to have these concerns,” he said.   

Michael Danby, a Labor lawmaker who lobbied his government to boycott the conference alongside fellow Jewish parliamentarian Mark Dreyfus, told JTA that “This is a victory for people who are seriously interested in opposition to bigotry in whatever form it takes. Australia is consistent in these matters.”

Danby said the Australian government waited until the 11th hour to give “every possibility” for the voices of moderation to prevail, but that the reaffirmation of the original Durban statement was the final straw.

Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said that "By not attending Durban II, the Australian government has struck a real blow in the fight against racism and bigotry."

In applauding the Australia decision, the American Jewish Committee in a statement by Executive Director David Harris said, "We know that this choice was difficult, given the Australian government’s deep commitment to racial equality. It’s still more proof that the U.N.’s relentless obsession with one country obstructs the real struggle for justice and human rights."

New Zealand also is considering boycotting the conference. Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said Sunday there is a “distinct possibility” his government also will refrain from attending the conference.

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