Israel likely to skip next UN racism conference

Middle East Online, 2008-08-08

Itzhak Levanon

Tel Aviv unhappy with UN racism conference for criticizing Israel, defending rights of Palestinians.

GENEVA – Israel will almost surely boycott the next UN racism conference in Geneva, its ambassador said Wednesday.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s departing UN envoy in Geneva, said the event April 20-25 would need to be completely reworked for Israel to participate.

Levanon said the Geneva follow-up to the contentious 2001 conference in the South African city of Durban had the making of another international “bashing of Israel.”

Levanon did not want the participants to “only focus on Israel,” adding that he would only “attend the meeting only if there is a radical, substantive change.”

The Bush administration has taken a symbolic position opposing the conference. In December, Washington cast the only “no” vote when the UN General Assembly passed a two-year budget because of objections to funding for the conference.

The State Department has said, however, that a decision whether to attend will be made closer to the time of the conference.

In 2001, at the World Conference Against Racism, the US and Israel walked out midway through the eight-day meeting over a draft resolution that criticized Israel and likened Zionism to racism.

Those references were removed from the final declaration, though it did cite “the plight of the Palestinians” as an issue.

A parallel forum of non-governmental organizations, however, branded “Israel as a racist apartheid state” and called for an end to the “ongoing, Israeli systematic perpetration of racist crimes, including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

Levanon said that Israel would not have any part in a repetition, noting that there are no signs that the next meeting will be different.

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