Israeli Leaders Stunned By
Decision Equating Zionism
With Racism
By Yair Sheleg

DURBAN - The Israeli delegation to the UN racism summit in Durban continued it efforts Sunday to moderate the anti-Israel resolution submitted to the summit by the bloc of Muslim states, and at the same time was contacting representatives of western states over the possibility of a joint pull-out if moves to moderate the wording of the proposal failed.
On Sunday an international convention of parliament members will discuss the issues on the conference agenda. Israel's sole representative will be Meretz MK Ran Cohen. The rest of the delegation members cancelled their participation.
A representative of the Palestinian delegation at the conference has called for an NGO statement issued Sunday, and which condemns Israel as a "racist apartheid" state, to be adopted as part of the conference's closing statement.
Thousands of non-governmental organisations meeting on the margins of the racism summit in Durban, South Africa, accused Israel of "systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing."
It called Israel "a racist apartheid state in which Israel's brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterised by separation and segregation ... and inhumane acts."
The declaration, adopted by 3,000 NGOs in 44 regional and interest-based caucuses, shocked Jewish groups. Jewish delegates walked out.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the anti-Israel declarations a disgrace, and said that Israel was "seriously" contemplating withdrawing from the conference in protest.
Israeli diplomatic efforts are centering on convincing other Western countries, such as the U.S., Canada and European Union countries, also to withdraw their delegations in support of Israel. Sources in the American delegation have said that if efforts to moderate the anti-Israel wording of the closing statement prove unsuccessful, they will also consider withdrawing.
The Israeli delegation to the conference blasted the language of the NGO declaration as an incitement to hatred of Jews. "The decision of the conference of the NGOs adopted this morning is outright incitement, whose only purpose is to delegitimise the Jewish state and its people," delegation spokesman Noam Katz told Reuters.
Alon Liel, a former ambassador to South Africa, said that the NGO declaration was the harshest Israel had encountered since the 1975 UN decision equating Zionism with racism. "This is a condemnation of the street, of the public, not governments," he said. "Those decisions (of governments) are still ahead of us."
Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked media representatives Sunday at the Durban conference to help prevent the hijacking of the conference by the Mideast conflict. Robinson said that the media representatives were responsible for dealing with other topics of the conference, such as slavery compensation and minority rights.
Hours after the declaration was adopted, New York-based Human Rights Watch, also attending the Durban conference, distanced itself from the NGO stance because of the harsh language used about Israel. "Israel has committed serious crimes against Palestinian people but it is simply not accurate to use the term genocide and to equate Zionism with racism ... it is now a matter of damage control," said Reed Brody, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Resolutions at NGO Forums have no binding authority but they increasingly influence the final declarations adopted at the UN governmental meetings they precede.
The United States, Canada and Israel sent only junior level delegations to the conference in protest at what they see as anti-Israeli bias.
Moussa: Arabs not against condemning crimes on Jews
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sunday that Arab efforts to condemn Israeli acts against Palestinians at a U.N. racism conference did not mean they oppose condemning past crimes against Jews.
"Arabs will not stand in the way of condemning crimes committed against Jews in the past. But at the same time, they will not accept silence on any racist practices Israel pursues today," the statement quoted Arab League chief Amr Moussa as saying.
The statement said Moussa told U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Saturday on the sidelines of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, that Arabs wanted the conference to succeed.


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