Anti-Israel bias taken out of UN racism paper

A new version of the final document produced by the UN’s next major human rights conference in Geneva has left out all criticism of Israel, prompting cautious optimism from the Board of Deputies’ president, Henry Grunwald.

The anti-Israeli language that characterised the final document of the original conference in South Africa, in 2001, has disappeared.

However, almost every reference bar one each to Holocaust commemoration and antisemitism has also been taken out of the new draft.

Even so, the changes were given a tentative welcome by Mr Grunwald, who is also chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and co-chair of the Jewish Human Rights Coalition, which has been involved in preparations for the event.

After meeting Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown on Thursday, Mr Grunwald said: “There’s no doubt that the new document is, on the face of it, a vast improvement on anything that has been considered before. It might well be that the document has emerged in that form because of the fear of withdrawal by the European Union countries.

“Our concern is that attempts will be made to amend this document and re-insert offensive passages that have made the prospect of a repeat of the first Durban conference a real one.”

Mr Grunwald had written to Lord Malloch-Brown prior to the new document’s appearance last week, stating it was the Board’s belief that the so-called “red lines” — the conditions that if broken would lead to Britain’s withdrawal — had already been crossed and requesting a meeting to clarify Britain’s position.

There were four “red lines”: no downgrading of antisemitism or Holocaust commemoration; no singling out of Israel; no measures against defamation of religion; and no hierarchy of racism. As far as the government was concerned, said Lord Malloch-Brown, the lines remained the same.

“This means that if they are crossed either before or at the conference, we would expect the British government to do the right thing and withdraw,” said Mr Grunwald.

He said it would have been preferable to have more than just a single mention of antisemitism and Holocaust commemoration in the new document “but it is so completely different to what went before.

“The worry still remains that there remains an affirmation of the first Durban document and realistically there is no prospect of that changing. However, if the document remains basically as it is now, there is a chance that the review conference will not be a repeat of the first one,” he said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said that Durban “should not be seen as an opportunity to press unrelated political interests and issues. We will find unacceptable any attempt to use the Durban process to trivialise or deny the Holocaust.”

    Last updated: 11:32am, March 26 2009