To search, type one or more key words below.
Search Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

Racism Talks Are Stumbling On Language About Israel

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): August 12, 2001, Sunday    
Racism Talks Are Stumbling On Language About Israel     By ELIZABETH OLSON    .

August 12, 2001, Sunday

Racism Talks Are Stumbling On Language About Israel


Negotiations to prepare for a United Nations conference on racism ended Friday mired in disagreement over whether language critical of Israel should be included on the agenda, and with American participation still uncertain.

Delegates from more than 100 countries met through the week to draft an agenda and work on the wording of a final declaration for the racism conference, which is to open Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa.

But the efforts foundered over the insistence by Islamic and Arab countries that the conference text include wording accusing Israel of racist practices against Palestinians.

As the contentious meeting closed, a senior State Department official took to the floor on Friday night to accuse some delegates of taking ''extreme positions masquerading as flexibility.''

The reference appeared to be to a text offered this week by the 56-country Organization of Islamic States. This text dropped language that equated Zionism with racism, an accusation made frequently in the past, but included references to ''racist practices of the occupying power'' -- Israel -- and ''racial discrimination against the Palestinians.''

The Bush administration has indicated that it may refuse to take part in the conference if language singling out Israel is included.

As the talks wound down, the United Nations commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, insisted that a ''real breakthrough against racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance'' was still possible at Durban, but many delegates indicated that such accords would be hard to come by given the amount of unresolved language.

Although the possible withdrawal by the United States shadowed the session, the mood here was generally positive until the Islamic countries introduced a seven-page proposal with language that referred, for example, to the ''Jewish holocaust in Europe.'' Using a lower-case ''h'' to refer to the Holocaust diminished Jewish suffering under Hitler, Jewish human rights groups insisted.

Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and a member of the American negotiating team, described the document as ''dripping with hate,'' and said that without changes, he would recommend that the State Department boycott the conference.

But a Palestinian delegate, Nabil Ramlawi, said the conference would be a vehicle ''not to condemn racism, but to protect it'' unless the text referred to the ''suffering of the Palestinian people due to Israeli racist practices.'' Egypt's delegate, Fayza Aboulnaga, argued that countries could not ''turn a blind eye to the Palestinian situation, or it will make a mockery of a conference to combat racism.''

Mrs. Robinson, who is the secretary general of the conference, urged negotiators to take into account the ''historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand'' and the ''accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.''

Progress was apparently made on another contentious issue, compensation for the slave trade. African countries agreed to drop language calling for reparations, which the United States and other Western countries had opposed.

Yet to be settled was whether to press for a ''formal apology'' for slavery, which Mrs. Robinson said could be construed as laying the legal groundwork for compensation, and whether slavery would be defined as a crime against humanity.

With so much unsettled, Mrs. Robinson said negotiations would most likely resume when delegates meet in Durban. But Israel's delegate, Yaakov Levy, said his country would have to consider whether to take part in Durban, and the State Department is expected to announce in the coming week whether it will attend.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top