The Obama administration announced last week that the United States would not participate in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to take place in New York City in September, during the U.N. General Assembly opening session. New Jersey members of Congress commended the president’s decision, noting the irony that a conference purportedly against racism has in the past degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic event.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement: “I applaud the State Department’s decision to forgo participation in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism this year. People of democratic principle understand the misnomer, that Durban III will be yet another ugly opportunity to single out Israel and become a megaphone for anti-Semitism and anti-American vitriol.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) responded to the Standard’s request for comment, saying, “President Obama has made the right decision to pull the United States out of this year’s conference in New York City.” (Both men signed a letter last year led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] urging the U.S. to refrain from participating in the conference.) “Instead of providing an opportunity to address the very serious issue of racism,” Lautenberg continued, “the Durban conference has been tainted by anti-Semitic and anti-American demonstrations. This conference,” named for the first such gathering in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, “is intended to provide a forum on eliminating discrimination, and the United States should only participate when this issue can be legitimately addressed.”
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), reached for comment by the Standard, concurred with Menendez, stating, “Despite being called a ‘Conference Against Racism,’ Durban III, like Durban I and II, is exactly the opposite. The agendas of these Durban conferences have been and continue to be filled with anti-Semitism and hateful attacks against Israel. I applaud the Obama administration for announcing that America will not be taking part in this charade.”
Rothman contended that the administration’s decision to forgo “Durban III” signals not just a commitment to stand with Israel in diplomatic forums but on security issues as well.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) also weighed in, saying, “The president made the right call…. The original conference in 2001 contradicted itself with displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Intolerance committed under the guise of breaking down racial barriers is simply an insult to American intelligence, and I’m glad the United States won’t be participating in the event.”
The first Durban conference was described by many commentators as an anti-Israel hate-fest, with representatives of the Arab Lawyers’ Union at one point passing out pamphlets depicting hook-nosed Jews dripping blood from their fangs with pots of money nearby. The conference produced a document condemning Israel as racist while condemning no other country. Speakers included Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, who reportedly delivered an anti-American tirade.
“Durban II,” in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, featured as its keynote speaker Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts about the Holocaust and endorsed the destruction of Israel. At Durban II, he characterized Israel as a “racist government” and condemned its establishment.
The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I, and the Obama administration made the decision to boycott Durban II 48 hours before it opened. Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland joined the boycott.
Critics contend that by waiting until two days before Durban II to decide to boycott it, the Obama administration weakened efforts to build a solid coalition of democracies to boycott the event. Both Great Britain and France attended in 2009, although both countries’ representatives walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech.
Commentators have speculated that timing Durban III to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly may increase the presence of prime ministers and presidents who might not otherwise attend. There is speculation over whether the timing and location of the event is coincidental. The conference is being billed as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of Durban I – but some say it is too close to the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for comfort.
So far, the conference has met with opposition from the U.S., Israel, and Canada.