As the Palestinian statehood bid draws increasing support at the United Nations convention in New York, key member states have distanced themselves from a conference marking the ten-year anniversary of the Durban anti-racism conference in South Africa, in which both the United States as well as Israel stepped out due its alleged anti-Israel agenda.
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Israel has asked friendly nations to stay away from this year’s event.
The 2001 anti-racism conference was criticized for its harsh language against Zionism's "racist practices," calling the Zionist movement one that is "based on racial superiority." The draft document containing these statements prompted the U.S. and Israel to withdraw their delegations.
In 2009, the "Durban II" conference was held in Geneva, and made headlines after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which he attacked Israel and denied the Holocaust.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the conference Thursday, and urged all countries to "stand firmly" against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and reject discrimination against Christians.
Thus far, 13 countries have announced that they will not attend the conference, dubbed "Durban III." U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement on Thursday that "the British Government has decided that the U.K. will not attend the UN meeting.”
He added that the 2001 conference," and the anti-Semitic atmosphere in which it was held, was a particularly unpleasant and divisive chapter in the UN's history. It is not an event that should be celebrated."
The countries who pledged not to attend the conference include nine EU countries, as well as Australia, Canada, and the U.S.
Iran's Ahmedinejad, however, is expected to take part once more.
A counter conference was held at the Millennium Plaza hotel in New York on Thursday to protest the Durban III convention and its allegedly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agenda.
High profile speakers included Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, President of the World Jewish Congress Ron Lauder, Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, actor Jon Voight, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, and others.
Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, recalled the original Durban conference, saying, "I almost became part of Durban I. Kofi Annan was the Secretary General. He called me and I said, of course.”
However, once Wiesel saw the program, he realized he could not participate. He told the former UN chief, “Durban I is supposed to be conference against anti-Semitism, but it became conference of anti-Semitism. I resigned in protests and told Kofi I am sure it will become an embarrassment to the UN.”
After the conference, Annan sent the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate a message saying "Elie, you were right."
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, spoke as well, saying "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to speak to the General Assembly today, Abbas speaks tomorrow. This is not an aberration that can be corrected, this is not a minute flaw - this is every day (at the UN).”
Bolton warned that “the pervasiveness of this anti-Israeli feeling, anti-Americanism, is there every day. Don't be shocked about what's happening. The Durban III declaration that will be adopted today - it's part of the initiative that is going on for some time, the central objective of which is delegitmization of the state of Israel.”
Alan Dershowitz addressed the crowd as well, saying “the reason there is still no peace in the Middle East can be summarized in two letters: UN.”
The Harvard professor continued his attack on the UN, saying “rights of women, children, gays, were ignored, because the UN was too busy debating whether Zionism is racism. The UN has encouraged anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.”
The American Civil Liberties Union slammed the Obama administration for refusing to participate in the Durban III conference, saying in a statement on Thursday that “the absence of the United States in today’s proceedings is disappointing; it contradicts the administration’s stated position to push for positive models to advance human rights, and sends the wrong message to the global community regarding the U.S. commitment to fight racial injustice everywhere.”
The statement called on the United States to “lead by example and translate their stated commitment to end racial discrimination into concrete laws and policies.”