The Obama administration has announced it will boycott a world conference against racism being held at UN headquarters in September because of concerns about anti-Semitism. The U.S. will skip the summit, which this year marks the 10-year commemoration of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism that was held in the South African city of Durban.
President Obama called for the boycott after the U.S. and Israel both walked out of that meeting over a draft resolution that criticized Israel and equated Zionism with racism. In a letter drafted by Joseph E. McManus, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, it was stated that the United States would not participate in the upcoming conference because the Durban process "included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism".
Many U.S. politicians on both sides have backed the president’s decision. The move was also praised by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which includes 52 groups such as B'nai B'rith International, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.
In 2009, the US and at least seven other countries also boycotted a follow-up event that the UN held in Geneva, citing concerns that Islamic countries would demand a denunciation of Israel and insist that all criticism of Islam be banned.
According to Udi Sommers, assistant professor, Department of Political Science at the University at Albany at SUNY, the boycott makes sense. "All in all, while relations are somewhat strained, the U.S. is a strong ally of Israel, and has supported it in various international forums," notes Sommers. "In this sense, this type of support would not be unusual. Furthermore, this may be a part of a string of recent cases where American officials, the U.S. President included, have supported Israel publicly."
The World Conference against Racism is organized by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to fight against racism ideologies and behaviors. The first conference was held in 1978, followed by ones in 1983, 2001 and 2009.