The United States and Israel have abandoned the U.N. World Conference Against Racism (currently being held in Durban, South Africa). The two countries left after conference attendees refused to compromise on a declaration that equates Zionism with racism and accuses Israel of apartheid and genocide. According to the Times of London, U.S. requests to “tone down” this language were met by “a warning from Egypt that it would not accept a conference declaration that did not condemn Israel as racist,” as well as “a statement from Syria saying that the Holocaust, in which more than six million Jews lost their lives, was a ‘Jewish lie’ and a demand from Iran that anti-Semitism should not be accepted as discrimination because it was not ‘a contemporary form of racism.’ “
Israel’s Ha’aretz quotes Foreign Minister Shimon Perez calling the Durban conference a “farce” and a “bizarre show.” Ha’aretz also finds some dissent from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refers to “abandoning the arena” and argues that Israel should have kept a team in Durban to fight its battles.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph lashes out at the conference, and the United Nations:
This wretched conference is attempting to set the clock back to before 1991, when the UN General Assembly’s resolution on Zionism and racism was repealed. It is putting in the dock Western nations which gave to the world the notion that racism and xenophobia are wrong. … The UN thoroughly deserves the disgust it has inspired in Washington and has only itself to blame if it now makes no headway in persuading the Americans to pay their $2.3 billion arrears to its funds.
What’s more, “After the hypocritical cant it has had to endure over the past four days, there is no good reason why Britain should stay [in Durban]. Tony Blair should … pull our delegation out.”
The Independent suggests an ulterior motive for the U.S. pullout: “[M]any delegates concluded that the American withdrawal was actually triggered by its fear of facing massive reparations claims for slavery from African Americans, and not by friction over language used to describe Israel. The walk-out came as many African countries hardened their stance on the need for an apology and reparations for the transatlantic slave trade and effects of colonialism.” A separate Independent story says that with the United States no longer around to play whipping boy, the reparations spotlight will swing onto slave-trade beneficiaries Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, which “refuse to apologise … because that could leave them facing lawsuits for compensation.” The Guardian claims that the U.S. government “has marched out looking self-righteous without once having had to talk about the deep racial problems in America” and runs a story on Durban attendee Jesse Jackson’s call for a slavery apology from Britain. Apologies, not Israel, are the story as well in South Africa’s Independent, which reports that a senior South African official has “accused the United States of using the Middle East issue as a red herring” to distract from the reparations debate.
In other Durban skirmish news, both Asahi Shimbun and the Korea Herald report on South Korea’s condemnation at the conference of textbooks recently approved by the Japanese government. The history schoolbooks downplay Japanese atrocities committed in World War II—particularly the sexual enslavement of Korean women.
Filling the void. Two papers diagnose a lack of leadership in the Middle East, yet they suggest vastly different solutions. Says the Khaleej Times, “Fed up with the Bush administration’s indifference, European leaders are trying to fill the diplomatic vacuum in the Middle East.” Some recent events have “raised hopes of greater French, as well as European interest” in the region. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian also refers to a “vacuum” left by U.S. non-involvement but foresees that South African President Thabo Mbeki could “take a major role in Middle East negotiations” because of the fact that “Mbeki and his government were trusted by the Palestinians and were ‘not untrusted’ by the Israelis.”
Should’ve stuck with Lassie. TV viewers in Saurashtra were outraged, according to the Times of India, when writers of a hugely popular soap opera had a character name her pet dog Jalamsinh Jadeja: “Little did producer Ekta Kapoor and her crack team know that Jalamsinh is not just any other name—he is a legend in Saurashtra, revered both as a warrior and saint.” Demanding the soap’s cable channel be shut down, an angry viewer stated, “These people obviously do not know who Jalamsinh was and they can’t play with our sentiments.” Agreed one official, “I fully sympathise with the sentiments of the community, the serial shouldn’t be fooling around with names of such luminaries.” The show will broadcast an apology in hopes of defusing the situation.