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25th Jun 2022

Israel-Arab issue divides EU over anti-racism conference

  • Jerusalem: Israel has called the UN conference on racism "a farce" (Photo: Wikipedia)

Several EU countries are set to boycott a United Nations conference on racism for fear that it might turn into an anti-semitic platform for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands announced they would join a US-led boycott against the Durban Review Conference starting on Monday (20 April) in Geneva.

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The event is aimed at taking stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which took place in 2001 and ended in disarray.

At the time, American and Israeli diplomats walked out of the conference because of attempts by some Arab countries to link Zionism and Israel to racism. Since then, the dispute has continued to hamper UN diplomatic attempts to agree to a global anti-racism statement.

Berlin said on Sunday it would not participate in an event that could be "abused as a platform for other interests."

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he took the decision after consulting with other EU nations, and he urged those attending the conference to "stand up for the effective fight against racism and ethnic discrimination."

Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have also decided not to send their ministers to the conference for similar reasons.

France, on the other hand, is planning to attend the event "in order to articulate its standpoint on human rights issues," a source close to President Nicolas Sarkozy's office told AFP.

Belgium said on Sunday it is urging fellow EU member states to attend the event "in large numbers" despite the boycott. "Consultations at the European level are underway," the Belgian foreign ministry said.

The Czech EU presidency, Great Britain and Ireland are also participating, but announced they would only send junior delegates.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has in the past said Israel should "vanish from the page of time," arrived in Geneva on Sunday and was set to address the gathering on Monday afternoon.

On the same day, which marks Adolf Hitler's 120th birthday, several Holocaust commemoration events are to take place around the world, including a ceremony in Geneva attended by leading Jewish figures such as Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel.

Against this background, the Durban review conference was a "tragic farce," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said. "Officially it is aimed at denouncing racism, but it has invited a Holocaust denier who has called for the destruction of Israel," he added, referring to the Iranian leader.

US President Barack Obama said anti-Israeli language that was "oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive" in the draft final communique had been the red line for his administration.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was "shocked and deeply disappointed" by Washington's decision to stay away.

Canada and Israel have said for months they would stay away. Australia also took a similar decision last week.

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