The Guardian September 12, 2001

US condemned for quitting anti-racism conference.

by Steve Lawton

The United States and Israel pulled out of the United Nations World 
Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, amid growing Arab 
anger and condemnation of the Zionist state's continuing brutal undeclared 
war against Palestinians.

In the strongest language yet to emerge at a major international UN 
organised event in recent years, Israel was accused of being "an apartheid 
regime", of committing "ethnic cleansing" and "acts of genocide" against 

The anger was reflected in anti-Israeli and anti-US demonstrations that 
have persisted in Durban throughout the conference. Tens of thousands 
marched and demonstrated during the conference, with many delegates 

Banners proclaimed African-Arab concerns: "Stop killing our children", 
"Landlessness = racism", "Racism: Right of Return to Jews; No Right of 
Return to Palestinians".

This pressure had also built up through the Forum of Non-Governmental 
Organisations (NGOs) and the summit meeting of the youth which adopted 
strong anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian positions.

When it came to the vote of around 4000 NGOs on a resolution condemning 
Israel, the majority supported it, while the Jewish organisations promptly 
walked out amid a wave of "freedom for Palestine" chants.

At the start of the conference Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attacked 
Israel as a racist colonial power displaying a "supremacist mentality, a 
mentality of racial discrimination". He accused Israel again of using 
depleted uranium-tipped bullets against Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell who did not attend the conference said 
that the US decision to withdraw was a reaction to declarations of "hateful 
language, some of which is a throwback to the days of'Zionism equals 
racism'", and to "the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust or 
suggests that apartheid exists in Israel".

But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, while condemning the Holocaust 
and anti-semitism said: "It is absurd to talk about things which occurred 
more than 50 years ago while ignoring the barbaric Israeli treatment of the 

South African cabinet minister Kader Asmal said: "Nobody should be able to 
badger us into silence through threats of boycotts".

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was clear on one thing: "We cannot expect 
Palestinians to accept [the Holocaust] as a reason for the wrongs done to 
them through displacement, occupation, blockade, and now extra-judicial 

The US and Israeli withdrawal was condemned by the National Lawyers Guild 
of the US which said US Administrations, over the past two years, had 
"failed to grapple" with the issues of racism and intolerance and had 
"impeded" the build-up to the conference. The Guild called for an end to 
"apartheid in Palestine", arguing for human rights to be put before 
"property interests".

African-led demands to redress past colonial wrongs was another bone of 
contention for Western capitalist powers. This issue is rapidly gathering 
pace, especially since a global alliance of African organisations and 
descendant groups was set up on the eve of conference.

While a document circulated by the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and 
Australia acknowledged the "grave historical injustices" and "human 
suffering" of slavery, the slave trade and apartheid; they did not accept 
the consequences of colonialism.

African countries, led by Zimbabwe, are demanding reparations in the form 
of what they call "enhanced remedial development aid", linked to the New 
Africa Initiative which was recently launched at the African Union 
conference (formerly the Organisation of African Unity, (OAU).

The Zimbabwean position on land reform was something well understood by the 
Dublin Palestinian Delegate-General, Ah Halimeh, who spent 18 years in 

While he questioned certain methods, he told the Irish Times 
(September 5), he fully supported their aims. "(President) Mugabe and the 
people of Zimbabwe are entitled to control their land ... Let me tell you 
that 4500 commercial white farmers own 75 per cent of the viable land in 

Britain refuses to accept responsibility for the legacy of colonialism to 
avoid possible legal action demanding redress.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, defending their position, said: "It 
would not be sensible for governments to accept responsibility for the 
actions of governments so long ago. What is important is what we do in the 
present." Precisely, and that is the point of reparations.

Leading US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson told the BBC that the 
failure of countries to apologise meant they ought to declare they must be 
proud of slavery and colonialism. If they were sincere, he said, "they 
would apologise and move towards some plan for restoration".

Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete insisted reparations from 
developed countries were necessary since "slavery, colonialism and 
apartheid have resulted in gross and lasting economic, political, social 
and cultural damage to the African peoples".

He said there was no need to look for the victims. "Our poverty is enough 
evidence ... They captured our able bodied men and women who could have 
developed the African continent."

The Secretary of the Peoples' General Committee for African Unity of Libya, 
Ali Abdussalam Treiki said "parties responsible must apologise to the 
people of Africa and they must undertake, formally and publicly, to 
satisfactorily compensate the peoples in Africa."

People's China Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, according to Xinhua News 
Agency, said none of the "cradles of ancient human civilisation were spared 
by the wreckage and destruction" caused by colonialism and foreign 

He pointed out that the uphill task remains with new forms of racism 
emerging, and that neo-fascism and neo-Nazism are increasingly menacing.

The US withdrawal from the conference  which South African Vice-President 
Jacob Zuma called a veto against the world  is not new. The US acted 
against both previous UN anti-racism conferences, held in 1978 and 1983, 
over the Middle East situation.

Accusations that there was an exclusive focus on the Middle East and that 
Arabs had hi-jacked the conference were rebutted by the Arab League 
Secretary-General, Amr Moussa. He referred to the fact that the decision 
was taken two years ago to highlight the Middle East issue alongside 
slavery, colonialism and reparations.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro was in veteran full flow. He called the anti-
globalisation protests the "rebellion of the masses", declared the 
capitalist order "unsustainable" and accused the developed world of getting 
rich "through conquest and colonisation and through slavery and by 
plundering the resources of Africa and Latin America".

The US has now been put firmly in the public dock for its pro-Israeli 
actions and sabotage of the conference. It shows that behind racism and 
Zionism there is the imperialist agenda  subjecting nations and carving 
up resources  that is at the heart of the US action.

This can only strengthen the resolve of forces, both within the developed 
and developing countries, to oppose that destructive course, even though 
the formal outcome of the conference's aims will have been damaged.

* * *
From New Worker, paper of New Communist Party of Britain

Back to index page