- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Black leaders yesterday accused the U.S. government of "orchestrating" distractions during last week's U.N. conference on racism in South Africa, calling the action President Bush's "biggest debacle" to date.
"Our [delegation] felt the necessity to guarantee that America would not be perceived solely through the prism of the U.S. government's vacillation, contrivances and manipulation of issues surrounding the [conference] agenda," said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum.
The forum, a confederation of civil rights and service organizations, led a 45-person delegation from the United States that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Miss Scruggs-Leftwich said that the conference was a "productive, encouraging experience" for the Black Leadership Forum's delegation. The experience was marred, she said, only by the "endless distractions, largely orchestrated by the government of the United States with strong support from European, Europe-descendant allies and mainstream media."
The United States and Israel walked out midway through the weeklong conference when no accord could be reached on Arab attempts to condemn Zionism as racist.
The U.S. action prompted the Anti-Defamation League — generally an ally of civil rights groups — to run a full-page advertisement in yesterday's New York Times, thanking the president and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for their refusal to back the conference.
At yesterday's news briefing, Ron Walters, a professor of African- American studies at the University of Maryland, said that the end result of the conference, a declaration calling slavery a "crime against humanity," demands an enhanced U.S. effort for reparations.
"If it is indeed a crime against humanity, where is the redress?" asked Mr. Walters, who was also deputy campaign manager for Mr. Jackson's failed 1984 presidential bid. Mr. Walters also criticized the United States for its exit over the Middle East.
"At the end of the day, President Bush is not the president of Israel," said Mr. Walters. "He is not absolved of his own responsibility to address racism."
Members of the black delegation complained yesterday that government representatives did not speak with them.
Donna Christensen, congressional delegate from the Virgin Islands, noted, "That the U.S. government did not see fit to speak with the delegation speaks volumes — we are not letting the president off the hook."
She added that the Middle East controversy could well impose a wedge between black and Jewish groups in the United States.
"And not just because the Israeli-Palestinian issue clouded our issue — but the Jewish coalition did not support us in our effort to get a declaration of slavery being a crime against humanity."
Jewish leaders in the United States support the government's decision to depart; many of them wondered what kind of Americans would be there in the first place.
"The whole thing is a farce that caters to bigotry and hatred," said Irv Rubin, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League.
The final declaration from the conference states an acknowledgment and regret over slavery, which it called a "crime against humanity." It backed aid to countries affected by slavery and colonialism but did not promise reparations or an official apology from Western countries.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the conference chairwoman, said the reparations and apology for slavery should not be monetary. "It does not mean money, it means dignity," she said at the conference, held in Durban, South Africa.
But Mr. Jackson returned from the conference last week with renewed enthusiasm for reparations and vowed to make it his primary issue.
So far, he has made no further public statements on reparations.
Joe Leonard Jr., bureau chief at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's office here, said Mr. Jackson is still planning how to implement his new campaign. "He is going to do something," Mr. Leonard said.
In a news release issued Sunday, Mr. Jackson restated his own contention that the Bush administration attempted to "undermine" the Durban conference. And hinted at what may come.
"We can document, to this day, the economic cost of racially discriminatory policies — from red-lining, to charging more for car financing or insurance policies," Mr. Jackson wrote. "With the Germans paying reparations to Israel, the U.S. to the Japanese interned in World War II, the issue of reparations cannot be simply ignored. Bush opposes even a serious look at the subject. Most opponents issue shrill denunciations of notion of paying billions to the descendants of slaves.
"But the remedy can take many forms," Mr. Jackson wrote. "With HIV/AIDs spreading through Africa — with projections of 100 million falling victim within five years — perhaps the best reparations for slavery and colonialism is a serious commitment to rebuilding public health systems in Africa.
"In this country, reparations might benefit all by focusing on building schools and affordable housing, and lifting poor mothers and children up from poverty," he wrote. "And in redoubling our efforts to end discriminatory practices — from racial profiling to discriminatory sentencing to insurance company rip-offs."


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