Boycotts hit U.N. racism conference

A major United Nations anti-racism conference was thrown into further disarray Sunday when more countries joined a U.S. boycott.

Australia and the Netherlands were the latest to pull out of next week’s meeting in Geneva, amid a growing dispute over a document said to single out Israel for its racism. Washington says despite numerous redrafts of the controversial document, due to be adopted at the conference, it remains unhappy, and says it violates American principles of free speech. Canada, Israel, Italy and Sweden have also announced they are boycotting the conference aimed at creating a global blueprint for tackling discrimination. Britain says it will attend. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose past comments on the Holocaust and Israel are likely to overshadow his contributions to the debate, has reportedly confirmed his attendence. U.S. State Department officials say redrafts of the offending document, which will reaffirm anti-discrimination commitments agreed at a 2001 meeting in Durban, South Africa, have failed to resolve outstanding issues. America objected to the 2001 agreement — joining Israel in walking out of the Durban meeting — and says the current document “prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith echoed the concerns on Sunday, saying that Israel was being unfairly targeted.. “Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the Review Conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views,” he said. The United States says that despite its boycott, it “will continue to work assiduously” with all nations “to combat bigotry and end discrimination.” But the move has caused concern among anti-racism campaigners in the United States. The Congressional Black Caucus said it was “deeply dismayed” by the decision made by the nation’s first African-African president, saying it was inconsistent with administration policies. “Had the United States sent a high-level delegation reflecting the richness and diversity of our country, it would have sent a powerful message to the world that we’re ready to lead by example,” a statement from the group said. “Instead, the administration opted to boycott the conference, a decision that does not advance the cause of combating racism and intolerance, but rather sets the cause back.”