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February 27, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 27, 2009 Jewish groups watching U.S. participation in Durban Il talks Julian Voloj Thousands of anti-lsrael activists from around the world demonstrate at the NGO Forum during the 2001 U.N. anti- racism conference in Durban. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)---The Obama administration is working to ease Jewish con- cerns about its decision to take part in a preparatory meeting for considering the upcoming Durban II conference. At issue is the upcoming Durban Review Conference, set to take place at the United Nations headquarters in Ge- neva in late April. U.S. Jewish groups are wor- ried that the gathering will be a repeat of the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish free-for-all that was the first conference in South Africa in 2001. Canada and Israel already have said they will not par- ticipate. The Netherlands and France also are considering not attending. But the U.S. State Depart- ment set off alarm bells Feb. 15in the Jewish community by announcing that it would be taking part in consulta- tions this week ahead of the conference. By the next day Daniel Shapiro, the National Secu- rity Council officer handling Israel affairs, had convened a conference call with Jewish communal leaders. Shapiro reinforced the message in the State Department release that the administration was still a long way off from attending the actual conference. "Our participation in these informal negotiations does not indicate--and should not be misconstrued to indi- cate-that the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself," the State Department statement said in its statement. "Nor does it indicate that we will necessar- ily participate in future prepa- rations for the conference. These decisions will be taken at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process." The consultations, also taking place in Geneva, are shaping the draft document that will set the tone for the conference. One signal that the Obama administration is making its concern with Israel bashing a priority is its inclusion of Felice Gaer, who directs the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, in the U.S. delegation to the preparatory meetings. AJC officials were not available for comment. U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog with affiliations to the AJC, reports that Iran in earlier drafting sessions led a number of countries in object- ing to language that specifies Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. "There is a notion inside this paragraph where there is talk about condemningwith- out reservation any denial of Holocaust," U.N. Watch quoted the Iranian delega- tion as saying at a January preparatory meeting. "This entails with it implicit re- striction on elaboration and review, or critical examina- tion and review and study of Holocaust, which is a very clear example of a violation of freedom of expression, a fundamental principle right for a democratic society. We suggest deletion of this paragraph." Among the groups repre- sented on the call with Shap- iro, there was widespread un- derstanding with the Obama administration's sense that it needed to test the waters, considering the president's commitment to diplomatic outreach and thoroughly revisiting his predecessor's policies--described by Vice President Joe Biden as "press- ing the reset button." "I would say it's important for the Obama administra- tion to act in a multilateral way in order to distinguish their vision of America's role in the world from the previ- ous administration in order to press the reset button, as the vice president said," said William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the United Jewish Communities, who was in on the call. "If that means engaging with our allies and others in order to try and change the direction of the conference, I think that is worth giving it a shot," Daroff said. "The key will be when they get to the point that it's clear the conference will be nothing more than an anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic hate session that the administrationwill loudly and emphatically walk away." Like Daroff, a number of other participants told JTA that they hung up reassured that the United States would pull out if it looks likes Durban II will repeat its namesake's sins. One thing Jewish groups will watch for, a Jewish in- sider said, is who wins in the "Clinton-Rice" nexus, refer- ring to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Susan Rice, the U.N. ambas- sador. There is speculation in some circles that Clinton may favor pulling out absent a change of direction in the draft negotiations, while Rice opts for sending a delegation that would issue a strongly worded "minority report" ob- jecting to the Israel bashing. Jewish groups would line up with Clinton in that fight, the insider said. Other participants on the call believed that the Obama administration would do bet- ter to tweak its approach--an- nounce its intention not to attend the conference unless it is convinced otherwise in the preparation meetings. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that the signals in preparatory meet- ings so far--including the continued emphasis on Israel bashing and on attempts to squelch criticism of militant Islam under the rubric of "defamation of a religion"- made Durban II a non-starter. "We have called on them to declare now that the cir- cumstances that have been created--the singling out of a country, the 'defamation of a religion' discussions--would make it impossible for the United States to participate," Hoenlein said from Israel, where he was on a Presidents Conference tour. "If you want to see the conference turned around, it will only happen if the United States makes it clear it will not attend." According to Hoenlein, Durban II had come up in meetings with Israeli leaders. Hoenlein, who was on the call with Shapiro, also voiced concern that if the Obama ad- ministration waited too long to announce that it was not attending, it would miss an opportunity to convince other Western nations to pull out. The Anti-Defamation League also expressed "con- cern" over the decision to participate in the preparatory sessions. "Several European coun- tries and other nations have pressed hard to delete the offending passages without success," the ADL said in a statement. "Many of them have said they will not par- ticipate if the changes are not made. U.S. entry into the process at this time risks extending the negotiations and delaying the withdrawal of those countries." That's notthe community's consensus, said a senior Jew- ish organizational official who was on the call with Shapiro. "There is a clear consensus that if it proceeds the way it did last time, the U.S. should not participate," the official said. "There is a distinction between that and being en- gaged in the process." Human Rights First, the watchdog that has strong Jewish community credibility because of the lead it has taken in exposing anti-Semitism in Europe, is encouraging participation if only to salvage an opportunity to make U.N. member nations accountable for racism. "We urge the administra- tion to work to ensure that the conference advances rather than undermines the protec- tion of fundamental rights, and to engage with others to press for that outcome," it said in a statement. PAGE 9A tate Taxes. Swords. Well, we can help make one of them easier to swallow. Traditional estate planning is an unpleasant responsibility. Then there's The Wealth Enjoyment System , a transformational approach to estate planning that can help give you confidence about your family's future - while letting you enjoy your life and wealth and helping you improve your children's lifestyle to_Ed. 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