Obama and Israel to boycott ‘Durban II’

Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have assured Jewish leaders that the United States will not take part in the so-called Durban II conference, the JC has learned.

The now-notorious 2001 Durban Conference became a forum for extreme anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism.

A senior executive from an international Jewish body said he had been told: "President Obama is fully aware of the dangers of participating in this conference." Another senior executive of a major New York Jewish organisation said that foreign-policy advisers had told him that a public announcement would have to wait until the new team is installed in Washington.

But he said: "We are confident that the main problem now is not the US, which will certainly not take part, but the European Union members."

A further indication of the Obama administration's intentions can be found in the expected appointment of Hillary Clinton as the new Secretary of State, who, during her presidential primary campaign, promised to "lead a boycott of the Durban II conference, should current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail".

The draft declaration of the conference, to be held in Geneva in April 2009, focuses specifically on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians and attacks, as well as attacking the US and the West for being racist and anti-Islam.

Canada announced almost a year ago that it would boycott the conference. The European Union's Member States are still planning to take part.

Although Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced last week that Israel would also boycott the conference - whose preparatory committee is chaired by Libya with Iran, Pakistan and Cuba as vice-chairs - senior government officials have warned that Israel's own strategy is in disarray.

"The directive from Livni's office was that, not only are we boycotting the conference, but we are also not doing anything behind the scenes to try to influence what happens in Geneva," said one senior official.

"This is wrong because, even if we are not officially part of the conference, there is a lot we can do outside to counter-influence public opinion, and it goes against what many in the Foreign Ministry have already been doing."

Professor Gerald Steinberg, who heads NGO-Monitor, one of the advocacy groups focusing on Durban II, said: "There is a tendency in the Israeli leadership not to understand issues of public diplomacy. Now that the government has announced it's boycotting, it needs to go to the Europeans. They should be saying in every meeting with every official, how can we take you seriously as sponsors of the peace process if you participate in an antisemitic conference? It needs to be done in public, at the press conferences with EU leaders."

The Foreign Ministry expects most of the pressure on governments to come from local communities, but Jewish organsiations planning to advocate on Israel's behalf in Geneva complain of a lack of backing and coordination from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Some are accusing Foreign Minister Livni of being too consumed by her Kadima primaries campaign and now the Israeli elections to formulate a clear policy.

Sources at the Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism as "politically motivated". A spokesman said: "We have not been neglecting Durban II".

    Last updated: 11:56am, November 28 2008