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United Nations: Criticism of Israel and Religions Dropped from Racism Conference Agenda

(Mar. 19, 2009) A draft resolution for the upcoming Durban Review Conference, organized by the United Nations, has reportedly been changed to drop criticism of Israel and not to include references to “defamation of religion.” According to U.N. officials, the resolution now speaks only of concern about the negative stereotyping of religions and does not single out Israel for criticism. The conference is scheduled for April 20-24, 2009, at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Criticism of Israel Dropped from Durban II Draft Resolution, HAARETZ.COM, Mar. 17, 2009, available at; Durban Review Conference, Geneva 2009, United Nations website, (last visited Mar. 17, 2009).)

The conference was called under the mandate of 1996 U.N. General Assembly Resolution 61/149 [see “Resolutions,” left column, United Nations website, supra.] to review the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action agreed upon at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism that took place in Durban, South Africa (hereinafter Durban I). The United States and Israel walked out of the 2001 conference over a draft resolution that targeted Israel for criticism “and likened Zionism – the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state – to racism.” (HAARETZ.COM, supra.) Jews may belong to different races.

Western countries threatened to or stated that they would boycott the 2009 conference because its draft resolution again singled out Israel for criticism and called for limiting freedom of expression as it relates to criticism of religion, an issue reflecting the heightened emotions expressed in particular after the publication of editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper JYLLANDS-POSTEN in 2005. The Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen, was quoted as stating, “a draft backed by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference 'limits itself to Israel-bashing, anti-Semitism, limiting freedom of speech and other dubious texts.' … They were also pushing to equate Zionism with racism and banning the possibility of anyone to change his or her religion.” (EU Threatens Boycott of UN Racism talks, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, Mar. 16, 2009, available at

Among the countries and organizations that clearly stated they have already or would boycott the conference unless changes were made were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States. (HAARETZ.COM, supra, & INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, supra.)

Israel's Foreign Ministry immediately rejected the revised draft, alleging that the resolution remains substantially the same because the first article of the new document reconfirms the Durban I declaration that labeled Israel as a racist state. The reaction of other countries is expected shortly. (Barak Ravid, New Durban 2 Statement Still Singles Out Israel, HAARETZ.COM, Mar. 18, 2009, available at