- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

If there is one sure-fire way to ensure the absolute failure of a U.N. conference already prone to speechifying and single-issue posturing, it would be to couch the language of its draft agenda in such a way as to forcibly exclude the most powerful member states. As history poises to repeat itself, the fate of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), to begin Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa, will be, in large part, decided by conference planners and diplomats meeting this week in Geneva.

Mary Robinson, U.N. high commissioner for human rights and secretary-general of the conference, admits that if the controversial clause that equates Zionism with racism remains in the draft agenda, "we will not have a successful conference." In this vain she has appealed to Arab countries to retreat from their insistence on the anti-Zionism clause. This, the language of zealots, re-emerged at a February meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Tehran. As if allowing the failures of the past to steer the future, the Zionism as racism stipulation echoes the official line the U.N. General Assembly held from 1975 to 1991, until the phrase was wisely dropped. And it was precisely this language that kept the United States away from similar racism conferences held in 1978 and 1983. Moreover, it is the same language which has the Bush administration threatening to do so again this year and rightfully so.

In addition to the anti-Zionism issue, U.S. participation in the conference is further jeopardized by the provisional agenda that plans to address reparations payments for slavery. Should reparations stay on the table, the conference risks also losing French, British and German participation. Domestically, the reparations issue is already a powder keg, and the unsurprising result of its latest explosion has been a fierce congressional debate that provoked Rep. Cynthia McKinney to accuse Mr. Bush of intransigence and to ask, "Is the Bush White House just full of latent racists?"

Intransigence in this case is a dirty word for holding your ground. For a conference devoted to creating "a new world vision for the fight against racism in the 21st century" to dwell on the tainted history of slaveholding countries is reactionism at its least productive. And to acquiesce to the Arab position condemning Zionism comes dangerously close to turning a blind eye toward the very anti-Semitism this conference proposes to combat. The Bush administration has been shrewd enough to recognize this, and is to be commended for taking a stand. As a State Department official has said, "we want to go, but not at any cost."

There are some who think Mr. Bush would be wise to consider the more moderate option of scaled back participation. In a luncheon meeting this week with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mircea Geoana, foreign minister of Romania a country no stranger to the problems facing the conference was blunt: "We believe that the U.S. and European member states should not pull out. We believe that the level of representation is a different thing. By being totally out of the conference, you can't influence the outcome." Instead of the full-fledged delegation that would attend if the objectionable clauses were dropped, the presence of a smaller group would ensure that the United States wouldn't be frozen out of the conference and would retain a significant message of protest. Or so that line of thinking goes.

To be sure, however, condoning racist language and then holding a conference "Against Racism" is a farce. The Bush administration stands on solid and principled ground on its position.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide