Britain would pull out of the so-called “Durban II” conference on racism if it descends into another round of attacks on Israel and thinly veiled antisemitism.
Europe Minister Jim Murphy told MPs that while Britain would continue to work towards making the conference a success, he promised that a repeat of the blatant bias of the conference in 2001 would not be tolerated.
The first conference — the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance, to give its official title — was held in Durban in 2001.
A review of that event — a meeting whose shorthand name is “Durban II” — is due to take place next year, although no venue has been selected yet.
Preparatory work has begun, and suspicions about the direction it will take have already been aroused because one session took place during Passover, and another is scheduled to take place on Yom Kippur.
Answering a question from John Mann (Labour, Bassetlaw) and Tim Boswell (Con, Daventry), chair of the parliamentary All-Party Antisemitism group, about preparations for Durban II, Mr Murphy said: “The preparatory work [for the review conference] is ongoing, but there should be no repeat of the disgraceful antisemitism that blighted events surrounding the 2001 world conference against racism.”
Mr Mann said that “with Libya chairing the preparatory committee and Cuba and Iran supporting it as officers, the signs are not good”.
He sought assurance from Mr Murphy that “if there is even the slightest whiff of anything comparable” to what happened at the conference, Britain would not take part.
Mr Murphy reiterated: “I wish to be clear that the UK government will play no part in a gathering that displays such behaviour. We will continue to work to make sure that the conference is a success, but we will play no part in an international conference that exhibits the degree of antisemitism that was disgracefully on view on the previous occasion.”
Both Canada and Israel have said already that they will not take part in the review conference. France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said France would try to curb the “excesses and abuses” of the first one.