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Pulling Out of Durban
The Obama administration deserves praise for its decision to pull out of the so-called Durban II conference slated for Geneva in April.
The conference is meant to be a follow-up to the now infamous 2001 conference in Durban that was supposed to tackle worldwide racism but instead deteriorated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate-fest.
By most accounts, the follow up conference was headed in the same direction. Which is why alarm bells went off in some Jewish circles when the administration decided to send a delegation to a pre-conference planning session in Geneva last month. It was an attempt, officials said, to see if they could influence a change in the direction. Apparently, they found it an impossible task.
Israel and Canada had already declared their intention to boycott the event. Several Jewish groups joined in lobbying the administration to do the same.
The Anti-Defamation League was one of several groups that applauded the U.S. position. "The Durban Review Conference has itself been tainted by the very bigotry and vitriol that it was meant to counter," the organization said in a statement. "We applaud the administration for refusing to participate in a process that would in any way brand Israel as a racist country."
The U.S. decision is also important because of the message it sends to European countries, many of whom were already skeptical about the conference's intentions. But a good many of them were waiting to see which way the United States would go before making a categorical decision about attending.
It paved the way for the Europeans to stand up as they did this week before the United Nations Human Rights Council to deplore Muslim efforts to use the racism conference to shield Islam from criticism and single out Israel.
"I am deeply disturbed by the turn this event is taking," Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Italy voiced similar concerns.
Now, it is up to them to go the extra step and pull out.
The administration has left open a window to reconsider its decision but only if the planned references to Israel as a racist state, the restrictions on free speech as it relates to radical Islam and a call for slave reparations are removed.
The U.S. decision also bodes well for an administration still navigating how best to confront tough challenges around the world. It shows both fortitude and flexibility as Obama continues to forge a policy toward Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, issues that threaten Israel's security and affect its future.
Lastly, the U.S. move sends a message to those who insist on hijacking what could have been a meaningful effort to confront the very real problem of racism and xenophobia in the world.