Officials in Jerusalem expressed concern that Israel and Barack Obama's administration are on a collision course over an expected U.S. decision to participate in "Durban 2," the second UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, scheduled in Geneva this April.
The Foreign Ministry has sought to block efforts by senior U.S. officials to convince Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to alter American policy set during the Bush administration not to attend the conference, which is regarded by Israel as a forum of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli vitriol.
Israel is boycotting the conference because a declaration equating Zionism with racism is expected to be made there. In addition, it is expected that the organizers and participants will charge that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, and, like before in Durban, will make anti-Semitic statements.
The Bush administration agreed with Israel last year that the U.S. would not participate unless it received guarantees that the conference would not become a stage for anti-Semitism and one-sided criticism of Israel, as occured during the first Durban meeting in 2001.
Canada also announced that it was boycotting the conference and the Foreign Ministry has tried in recent months to convince European Union countries to also avoid participating.
The Foreign Ministry received confidential telegraphs from Israel's embassies in Washington, the United Nations and Geneva, about a possible change in the policy of the new U.S. administration regarding "Durban 2."
"Iran and Arab countries will once more take over the conference, and if the U.S. participates in 'Durban 2,' it will be a major blow," a senior Israeli diplomat told Haaretz. "This will pull the rug from under us and will lead to the participation of many more countries in the conference."
In one of the telegrams, a number of Obama officials reportedly pressed Secretary of State Clinton to announce the U.S. would participate in the conference.
One of the leading officials pressuring Clinton on "Durban 2" is the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who was Obama's close campaign adviser.
Rice is also pushing for the U.S. to join the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. The body had been boycotted by the U.S., in part because of its one-sided criticism of Israel.
President George Bush had accused the HRC of opting to focus on Israel instead of dealing with the genocide in Darfur.
The other official pushing for American participation in "Durban 2" is Samantha Power, another Obama adviser at the National Security Council.
Power participated in the initial Durban conference as the representative of a non-government organization and is known for her strong criticism of Israel. In the past, she expressed support for cutting U.S. military assistance to Israel and transferring the funds as aid to build a Palestinian state.
Senior State Department officials contacted Israeli diplomats and asked them to take swift action to block the Durban initiative.
"This is the time for Israel and Jewish organizations to intervene," U.S. officials said.
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