WASHINGTON - The Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference against Racism next week in Geneva, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document viewed as hostile toward Israel.
The preliminary conference document, which was initiated by Iran, Cuba and other third world countries, ran 45 pages and called for reparations for slavery, condemned the "validation of Islamophobia," and asserted that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is grounded in racism.
Israel and Canada have declared that they would boycott the conference. The United States sent delegates to a preparation meeting with the hopes of changing the draft document, but failed and announced that it would boycott the conference. Italy also declared that it would not be sending a representative to the discussions.
In an attempt to save the anti-racism conference, Russia initiated a new draft which no longer included the negative references to Israel. However, the new document ratifies "Durban I" – the concluding document of the first World Conference against Racism held in South Africa in 2001, which includes a harsh condemnation of Israel.
Israel clarified immediately that this was "the same old thing under a different cloak", and appealed to the US and other countries to persist with the boycott decision.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said last week that her country had yet to make a decision on the matter, causing many to view this as a sign that the US would eventually take part in the conference.
In practice, Washington is waiting until the last moment, leaving the door open for a possibility that the "Durban II" document would be completely cleaned of any negative reference to Israel, including the ratification of "Durban I".
It appears, however, that the Obama administration has decided against attending the conference, although the new president is seeking to return the US to the negotiating and dialogue table in every possible arena, after years of boycott by the Bush administration.
The Washington Post quoted feelings of frustration among human rights organizations, particularly African-American groups, expressing their disappointed over the fact that the first American black president might decide to boycott the conference.
Meanwhile, American Jewish groups have begun sending representatives to Geneva for PR activity against the conference. The B'nai Brith organization announced Tuesday that it would be sending a delegation of 50 senior organization officials from 11 countries to closely monitor the conference.