As diplomats meet in Geneva on Friday to hash out the agenda of the session, officials here are concerned it might reflect poorly on the United Nations as a whole. They have issued carefully crafted statements calling on participants in the follow-up session to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa to "work out their differences." Upon assuming office earlier this week, the new U.N. commissioner on human rights, Navanethem Pillay, who is South African, told reporters she would try to get as many countries as she could to participate in the five-day session starting April 20, known as Durban II.
Friday's efforts by the drafting committee are likely to single out Israel for rebuke, using language that closely follows idioms that were prevalent in international circles in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War, according to the executive director of the Geneva-based organization U.N. Watch, Hillel Neuer. Most glaringly, it includes an equation of the Jewish national liberation movement, Zionism, with the racist apartheid regime and calls for its elimination.
Ms. Pillay plans to meet with Israel's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Rony Leshno Yaar, who has said he would "listen" to the new commissioner, adding, however, that he sees "no reason to believe that Israel was wrong in deciding not to participate" in the conference, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Canada has announced it would not participate, and President Sarkozy and several British officials said they would walk out of the event if some of the anti-Semitic expressions that were on display at Durban are repeated in Geneva. America announced it would not finance the event, but officials said the next administration would make the final decision on participating. For now, "we see no change in the prospect of it being biased, one-sided, unproductive discussion," a spokesman for the American U.N. mission, Benjamin Chang, said yesterday.
Last week, a group of African countries headed by South Africa and heavily influenced by Islamic countries, issued its Durban II agenda in Abuja, Nigeria. The statement, which is likely to heavily influence Friday's agenda meeting, failed to address African afflictions such as the racially based war in Darfur, Sudan, or xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa. Instead, it singled out a non-African dispute, expressing its "concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupations." It also vowed to "eliminate colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, Zionism," and other unnamed forms of discrimination.
Ms. Pillay must "denounce the proposal adopted last week by African states in Nigeria that attacks free speech, singles out Israel, and endorses a text calling for the elimination of Zionism and comparing it to apartheid," Mr. Neuer said.
As far as the conference's agenda is concerned, "the train has already left the station," the head of the Israel-based NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, said. While Mr. Sarkozy and others expressed warnings, the European Union has not yet issued a statement on its members' participation, Mr. Steinberg said. The major difference between the event in Durban in 2001 and the one planned for Geneva, he added, is mobilization by Jewish groups that plan to greet any diplomat or organization that "lends credibility" to the conference with demonstrations meant to "name and shame" them.