Mordechai Yedid addresses delegates
during the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR)

Durban---- September 4......The United States and Israel stood by their recent threats to leave the UN sponsored Anti-Racism Conference in Durban with simultaneous announcements made in both Washington and Jerusalem that they would be leaving the conference immediately.

Both governments came to the fateful and dramatic decision only after various attempts by the US, Israel, the UN and other nations failed to remove the viciously anti-Israel language of the resolutions.

"Today, I have instructed our representatives at the world conference to return home," US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a statement, which was issued simultaneously in Washington and Durban, where the conference was in its fourth day.

"I have taken this decision with regret because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that this conference could have made to it," he said. "But following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, and others, I am convinced that it will not be possible."

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced Israel's decision to leave, explaining that there is no chance to change the "ugly and insulting decision" drafted by the conference.

"We have instructed our delegation in Durban to come back home," Peres said at a news conference timed to coincide with the US announcement. "We regret very much the very bizarre show in Durban. An important convention that's supposed to defend human rights became a source of hatred. We were portrayed in an insulting and baseless manner as a colonial nation.

"The Durban conference is a farce," he said.

He expressed gratitude to the 43 states that opposed the "one-sided decision" of the Arab and Muslim leagues.

"These countries saved world respect from deteriorating to the low level of lies and incitement," Peres said, adding that he had hoped that the "truth would prevail over the hatred." The singling out of Israel for condemnation was also unacceptable to the European Union and even if the Europeans did not follow Washington in abandoning Durban there is no chance any conference declaration could be approved in its current form, diplomats said.

"There is really very little difference between our view and the United States when it comes to the wording on Israel," one European diplomat told Reuters.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the rotating presidency, told a news conference on Monday night the 15-state bloc had agreed to take part in the drafting of a "completely new text" on the Middle East.

According to sources here, the decision to bolt the conference came after Egypt, Syria and Iran indicated that they would reject a Norwegian bridging proposal that would have had a generic anti-racism resolution adopted, without singling out any country by name.

According to Shimon Samuels, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Paris office and head of the Jewish caucus in Durban, the Egyptians insisted in a negotiating session with the Norwegians that Israel be termed a racist state; the Syrians repeated Holocaust-denial statements; and the Iranians declared that anti-Semitism was not a form of contemporary racism that should be dealt with at the conference.

After that, Samuels said, it became clear that there would be no chance to water down the resolutions.

The head of the Israeli delegation, Foreign Ministry director-general Mordechai Yedid, said that references to Israel in draft texts were "the most racist declaration in a major international organization since the Second World War." Yedid had particularly harsh words for Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who had told the conference on the opening day that Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories amounted to "ethnic cleansing." He said that Arafat had delivered a message of hate.

Alan Baker, the Foreign Ministry's legal advisor and deputy head of Israel's mission in Durban, told a throng of journalists at the conference last night that "no rational argument has carried any weight with the Arab countries and the Palestinians determined to attack us." Baker said that not only has Israel been "uniquely singled out, but that totally false accusations and lies unrelated to the purpose of the conference have been flung at us."

Saying that the conferences has been "hijacked," Baker said, "We have been forced to the conclusion that there is no purpose in our being here."

"We saw an NGO document that would have made Goebbels happy," Samuel said. "And now it is clear that we are going to see, at the end of the government conference, resolutions that can be called the UN's Mein Kampf."

Israel and American sources said that an "alternative to the Durban conference," where leading intellectuals and leaders will voice support of Israel, is being planned, and is likely to take place in Jerusalem in the next few weeks.

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid expressed support for the decision to leave the conference, which he said was intended from the beginning to serve as a "political lynching against Israel."

Diplomats had desperately tried to find middle ground between Israel and the US, both of which objected strongly to the draft declarations, and Arab and Muslim states, which wanted Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip condemned.

"It seems that despite extraordinary efforts by the American government reaching back many months, it will prove impossible for the American delegation to continue participating at this conference," Congressman Tom Lantos, a US delegate, said.
"Those who have made it their goal to hijack the conference for their propaganda purposes apparently have shown in the course of the day a degree of rigidity and unwillingness to compromise," he told reporters.

Where was Israel's PR counter effort? Fragmented as usual.
In New York hundreds of Jews, led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, national president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns
protested against the "Zionism is Racism" measures being passed in Durban.

The decision to bolt the conference came a few hours after Israel finally had its say against the anti-Zionist forces, with Mordechai Yedid, its representative, taking center stage in the plenary and declaring unequivocally that "anti-Zionism, the denial of Jews the basic right to a home, is nothing but anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

"The venal hatred of Jews that has taken the form of anti-Zionism, and which has surfaced at this conference, is different in one crucial way from the anti-Semitism of the past. Today, it is being deliberately propagated and manipulated for political ends."

U.N. rights chief Mary Robinson said she regretted Washington's decision and warned that if the conference failed to come to an agreement it would give comfort to the worst elements in every society. At one point in the conference, Robinson boldly declared "I am a Jew" in an attempt to deflect the brutal anti-semetism rising out of a conference designed to counter racism.

"This conference should have worked on common ground to beat racism throughout the world. Instead it has been hijacked in the most disgraceful and outrageous way," said Lord Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.

The World Conference on Racism, which organizers hoped would be a landmark in the international struggle against racism, runs from August 31-September 7.

Arab anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict
by Abraham H. Foxman