U.S. Leaning Toward Taking Part in Durban 2 Summit

Israel to boycott UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism in Geneva later this month.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington and New York are leaning in favor of participating in the "Durban 2" UN-sponsored anti-racism conference scheduled to take place on April 20 in Geneva, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.

The diplomats, who share a close working relationship with the American delegation to the United Nations, informed leading Jewish officials in New York that Washington has increasingly become convinced of the need to dispatch representatives to the conference.

Israel plans on boycotting the conference for fear that it will turn into a platform for singling out Jerusalem for criticism over its policies in the Palestinian territories.

Leading figures in the organized American Jewish community have been lobbying Western ambassadors and European diplomats in the UN to dissuade their governments from participating in the Geneva summit.

A senior Jewish activist who took part in some of the discussions with Western diplomats told Haaretz that he would not be the least surprised if the U.S. indeed decides to send an official delegation. The official said that while the U.S. pledged it would not participate, it was not an adamant opposition.

Dozens of human rights groups and activists in the United States have petitioned President Barack Obama to rethink his decision to boycott the conference, expected by many countries to be used as a forum for criticizing Israel.

(Click here to read the petition)

"The Durban Review Conference is one of the most important international platforms for discussing the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances," the activists wrote in a letter to the White House.

"Given the brutal history of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States, your Administration has much to contribute to this discussion," the petition read.

"A boycott would be inconsistent with your policy of engagement with the international community... How can your Administration engage in any manner with the international community if it has no representation at the discussion table?"

United Nations officials said a few weeks ago 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. 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 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.