SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia pledged an extra $13 million to help rebuild Gaza as pressure mounted on the Labor government to withdraw from an upcoming anti-racism conference.
The new funding, confirmed by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith at the international donors’ conference Monday in Egypt, brings to almost $50 million the amount Australia has donated to the Palestinians since December 2007.
The news comes as the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd faces increased pressure to join America, Canada and Israel in boycotting the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva in April. A resolution passed by the World Jewish Congress over the weekend was sent Monday to Smith by Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
The resolution said there was a “high possibility” that the April 20-25 conference would “constitute an unwarranted and illegitimate attack on democratic freedoms, international human rights law, and an attack on Israel.”
Joining the call for Australia to abandon the conference this week was Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, who is in Australia for the United Israel Appeal.
“The right thing is not to take part in something which could become a charade and a stage for anti-Semitism,” Gillerman told Sky News on Sunday.
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council also joined the chorus of boycott calls on Monday.
Its executive director, Dr. Colin Rubenstein, said in a statement, “The current draft outcome document not only again names Israel, alone among the world’s countries, as guilty of racism, it also effectively licenses Holocaust denial.”
“In essence, we are likely to see an even worse anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-Western debacle than we saw at the original conference in 2001” in Durban, South Africa.
A decision on whether Australia will attend the summit has not yet been made, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs.