Criticism of Israel Dropped From Durban II Draft Resolution

Western powers had threatened to boycott UN anti-racism summit if used as forum to bash Israel.

United Nations officials said Tuesday that Muslim-backed references to 'defamation of religion' and criticism of Israel have been dropped from a draft being prepared for next month's world racism meeting.

Initial draft resolutions for the United Nations Durban II summit branded Israel as an occupying state that carries out racist policies.

Islamic countries were campaigning for wording in the draft that would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights and would take Israel to task for its treatment of Palestinians.

The latest draft declaration, a compromise 17-page text issued by Russian working group chairman Yuri Boychenko after private consultations, omits any reference to the Middle East conflict as well as defamation of religion.

It now speaks only of concern about the negative stereotyping of religions and does not single out Israel for criticism, according to the officials.

"The document contains no reference to Israel, the Middle East or defamation of religion," said one United Nations source.

"The text goes in the right direction," an EU diplomat said.

The April 20-25 meeting in Geneva is designed to review progress in fighting racism since the global body's first such conference eight years ago in Durban, South Africa.

That 2001 meeting was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, and particularly marred by attacks on Israel and anti-Israel demonstrations at a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. and Israel walked out midway through the 2001 conference over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism - the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state - to racism. The European Union also refused to accept demands by Arab states to criticize Israel for its "racist practices."

In the end, the 2001 conference dropped criticism of Israel. It urged governments to take concrete steps to fight discrimination and recognized the plight of the Palestinian people and the need for Israel to have security.

Israel and Canada said they would boycott this year's meeting in Geneva. The United States and Italy have also vowed not to attend unless countries commit to a balanced declaration. The European Union and Australia have threatened to follow suit unless Muslim countries backed down.