The Obama administration has decided to boycott the so-called Durban II conference out of concerns for anti-Semitism.
Multiple sources on a conference call with the White House on Friday told JTA that the Obama administration had opted not to attend any further preparatory meetings ahead of the planned U.N. conference against racism in Geneva in April.
The conference reprises the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa that devolved into an anti-Jewish free-for-all. Canada and Israel have opted not to attend the conference, and some U.S. Jewish groups had been pressing the United States to do the same.
Preparations for a draft document so far have seen Iran leading a coterie of nations blocking inclusion of anything that might guarantee Jewish protections – including mention of the Holocaust – while inserting draconian language guarding Islam against "insult."
The State Department sent a delegation, including a senior staffer from the American Jewish Committee, to this month’s preparatory talks. The delegation’s conclusions were that the anti-Israel and anti-Western tendencies were too deeply entrenched to excise.
Now that the United States is withdrawing from the conference, European nations are expected to follow.
Speaking for the White House on Friday’s call were Samantha Power and James Warlick, who handle international organizations for, respectively, the national security council and the State Department; and Jennifer Simon, an adviser to Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
UPDATE: Favorable reaction to the administration decision is coming in from Jewish leaders and others. B’nai B’rith International executive vice president Daniel Mariaschin said the decision sends a "clear message" that "the administration is not going to tolerate business as usual in these multilateral forums" and also gives a signal to other countries "that have been waiting for us" to make a decision that they can fall in line behind the United States.
The quick decision, just a week after the U.S. attended planning meetings for the April conference in Geneva, also was a positive, said Mariaschin.
"The sooner the better," he said, because if the administration had waited until just a couple weeks before the conference, other countries might not have opted out.
"The administration was faced with the reality that this was not going to change," he said, and "sensed that their red lines had been crossed and there was no sense pursuing this."
The Anti-Defamation League also weighed in Friday afternoon:
We applaud the administration for refusing to participate in a process that would in any way brand Israel as a racist country. The campaign to label Israel’s policies toward Palestinians as racist serves, in effect, to revive the infamous allegation that Zionism is a form of racism.
This swift and clear-eyed decision demonstrates that the U.S. government speaks with a consistent moral voice against the singling out of Israel for condemnation in the United Nations, and is determined to engage in a fight against racism that is free from the politicization and hatred that has plagued the Durban Review Conference process.
The Congressional Task Force on Anti-Semitism, chaired by Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.), also applauded the decision:
We applaud the Administration for their decision to pull out of Durban II. It is clear to us that the same anti-Semitic displays of hate witnessed in the first conference are likely to be showcased once again, with nations such as Libya and Iran leading the charge. Especially at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, the United States simply cannot stand by as an important international conference on racism is hijacked by those who wish Israel harm.
We hope that the parties involved in planning the second World Conference Against Racism will abandon their agenda of hate and draft planning documents which adhere to the red-lines set forth by the United States Congress. In the meantime, it is imperative that the United States not lend its good name to a futile effort.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.):
It is very unfortunate that there will no willing partners to try to refocus the Durban II conference on its stated goal to review country commitments to fight racism, xenophobia and intolerance. I welcomed and urged the U.S. effort to engage forcefully in trying to prevent the conference from singling out Israel in any way, but am disappointed that the international community is unwilling to stand up to those who are once again hijacking the conference for political expediency.
“I hope that the Administration’s announcement will galvanize like-minded countries and those who have been sitting on the sidelines to end this mindless march toward an outcome that serves none of the victims of racism, xenophobia and intolerance, and I urge the organizers of the conference to show leadership to create the conditions for universal participation in Durban II. If they cannot, I believe that the United States can and must continue its leadership in addressing these vital matters without participating in a conference that may become focused on political issues that have no place in what should be a joint struggle to end racism, intolerance and xenophobia.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies:
This is unquestionably the right decision," said FDD President Clifford May. "It sends a message that racism and hatred must not be tolerated in any of its guises — not least when that racism and hatred is used to justify terrorist attacks around the world. We hope that Europe follows the lead of the United States and Canada in refusing to participate."
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Rabbi David Saperstein:
We deeply appreciate the Obama Administration’s effort to try and prevent the Durban II conference from being hijacked by those with an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agenda. While there was disagreement in the Jewish community as to whether such efforts would have been better served by the Administration’s engagement in or disengagement from the process, the fact that the Administration made the effort to play a constructive role dramatizes to the world both our seriousness about tackling the scourge of racism and the tenacity of those forces committed to hijacking the conference in pursuit of their anti-Semitic or anti-Israel agenda.
United Jewish Communities’ William Daroff:
As feared, it has become increasingly clear that the only purpose of the Durban conference is to condemn the State of Israel for its very existence. President Obama is absolutely correct in refusing to participate in this sham.Israel is one of our nation’s closest allies and we commend the President for recognizing the need to remove America’s name from these efforts to soil the name of Israel and Jews across the globe. We are hopeful that other countries will follow our lead by refusing to give credibility to this shameful fear mongering and anti-Semitic effort.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee:
The event, which has again proven to be a celebration of racism and vile anti-Semitic activity, is further evidence of the U.N.’s inability to demonstrate any semblance of fairness or objectivity on these issues when
it comes to the Jewish State.
President Obama’s decision not to send U.S. representation to the April event is the right thing to do and underscores America’s unstinting commitment to combating intolerance and racism in all its forms and in all
Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ Rabbi Steve Gutow:
It is a tremendous shame that the global forums we set up to discuss importantissues are so overly-politicized that they have left the U.S.with no option, but to opt out. Unfortunately it seems clear that this conference will turn into Durban II-an exercise in racism against Jews, rather than an honest attempt to address global racism.
We support the clear process the Obama Administration followed in order to reach this decision.
The American Jewish Congress:
We applaud both the Administration’s decision not to attend the Durban Conference and its effort to make it possible for the United States to demonstrate its desire to join in a world wide conference ending the scourge of racism. We hope that other nations will now follow suit and announce that they, too, will not attend.
The Administration, in keeping with its commitment to multi-lateralism, will send an observer to the UN Human Rights
Coalition meeting in March. Acknowledging that the Human Rights Council is a poster child for what is broken with UN mechanisms, the Administration’s limited cautious effort is understandable, though unlikely to produce much.