US, Israel Pull Out of Racism Conference

ByABC News
September 3, 2001, 1:37 PM

Sept. 3 -- The United States and Israel pulled out of a global conference designed to address prejudice, racism and resentment saying the event has only exacerbated the very things it was meant to eradicate.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a statement calling American diplomats home four days before the conference was scheduled to end, saying that "you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language."

The U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa has been battling heated arguments over Israel and tensions in the Middle East as well as reparations for the ills and legacy of slavery.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres also announced that his country's diplomats would pull out of the conference today, saying that Israel had been unfairly labeled as a colonialist nation by the members of the conference.

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

The sticking point was a draft resolution that was to be presented to the U.N. high commissioner for human rights that was sharply critical of Israel.

"I know that you do not combat racism by conferences containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of 'Zionism equals racism'; or supports the idea that we have made too much of the holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse," Powell said.

Peres accused the Arab League of focusing its efforts on singling out Israel for attack, laying all the blame for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on its shoulders.

"The Arab League, all of it, has come out against peace," Peres said at a news conference today. "The Durban conference is a farce."