Britain and Italy threaten to drop out of Durban II

Britain and Italy could join Canada and Israel in refusing to attend the Durban II Review Conference in April unless they receive cast-iron guarantees that it will not turn into an antisemitic, anti-Israel arena of hate.

The conference, to be held in Geneva, is a follow-up to the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

The Durban conference became notorious for its unbridled attacks on Israel, led by Iran and a number of other Arab states.

This time, a number of countries are awaiting a final decision by America — which has agreed to send a delegation to Geneva for an organisational meeting in the next few days — before they clarify their position. Jewish NGOs held an informal meeting on Sunday before the start of the conference to agree their strategy.

Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said on Tuesday: “If we can’t go forward now, we will withdraw. I was at the first conference. I have never seen such a disgraceful event in quite a long international life.”

Later, he said: “There are red lines that need to be made for us to participate. The US is in the same position as most of Europe. We are not going to stand idly by and allow this racist stuff to get through and be seen as acceptable. We are not going to have it.”

At a dinner for delegates on Monday night, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: “We will not send an Italian delegation [if it is the same as Durban 2001], but we will try to harmonise our position with other countries who are the friends of Jews. But we will leave a decision until the last minute.”

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “Lord Malloch-Brown’s comment that we are now in the make or break final phase in which to keep Durban II on track reflects our view that a serious and meaningful engagement with the issue of human rights is worth fighting for, but not at any price and not if the process is corrupted by those with no other agenda than to attack Israel and the Jewish people.”

    Last updated: 1:03pm, March 10 2009