Israel Decides To Send Delegates To Anti-Racism Conference

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Less than 24 hours before the opening of the U.N. conference against racism in South Africa, Israel announced it would send a delegation to the international forum.

Earlier, the State Department said the U.S. would be sending a middle-ranking official, following an announcement that Secretary of State Colin Powell would not attend.

The decision had been put off until the last minute in both Washington and Jerusalem due to language in the draft declaration, which singles out Israel, Israeli policies and Zionism for condemnation.

As of Thursday night, no decision had been made on who would lead the Israeli delegation.

Although the draft declaration remains controversial and the atmosphere in Durban has been characterized by fierce anti-Israel sentiment, Israel decided to send a delegation because it believes it can still make a difference, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"We decided to go because the Americans will go," he said. Israel would still have an opportunity to fight against the offensive language and a "good chance" to gain support and "reverse the course of events."

The Israeli delegation could always return home early if need be, he added.

If the resolution is not amended, the spokesman said, it would not be accepted by everyone, and that would represent a failure of the conference in obtaining consensus for a final resolution.

In Durban, anti-Israel sentiments are already running high among pro-Palestinian and Arab delegates to a non-governmental organization mini-conference.

But U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson took a bold stand against anti-Semitism on Wednesday.

In a symbolic act of identification Robinson, who had just been shown a booklet of anti-Semitic cartoons being distributed at the conference, declared herself to be a Jew.

"This conference is aimed at achieving human dignity," Robinson was quoted as saying at an NGO dinner. "My husband is a cartoonist, I love political cartoons, but when I see the racism in this cartoon booklet of the Arab Lawyers' Union, I must say that I am a Jew - for those victims are hurting.

"I know that you people will not understand easily, but you are my friends, so I tell you that I am a Jew, and I will not accept this fractiousness to torpedo the conference," she said.

Robinson was highly critical of Israeli policies in the disputed territories when she paid a visit here after the Palestinians launched their uprising last year.