US House members protest "hijacking" of Durban conference
- Washington Post
Threat to Boycott U.N. Race Talks Praised, Attacked
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2001; Page A03
A congressional subcommittee hearing on the World Conference Against Racism
opened yesterday with praise for President Bush's threat to boycott the
event if the issue of Zionism as racism is on the agenda.
But as soon as Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) finished her opening
statement, the subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.),
denounced the president's plan to avoid the conference if another
contentious issue, reparations for slavery and colonization, is part of the
Support for and opposition to the president's stance broke neatly along
racial lines among the eight attending members of the House International
Relations subcommittee on international operations and human rights. The
hearing, in the Rayburn Building, was the first public congressional meeting
on the United Nations conference, scheduled to start Aug. 31 in Durban,
Ros-Lehtinen, who is white and of Cuban descent, questioned how reparations
would be applied more than a century after U.S. slavery officially ended in
the 1860s. But her most forceful blast was against the effort to equate
Zionism in Israel with racism.
"There is perhaps no other issue which threatens the legitimacy and
effectiveness of the World Conference Against Racism as does the hostile
anti-Semitic/anti-Israel language shepherded by such countries as Iran, Iraq
and Syria," she said.
McKinney, who is black, said the two issues were a smokescreen for what she
perceived to be the president's desire to avoid the subject of race.
"I am becoming concerned that they really don't care about racism," McKinney
said. "I think the administration's opposition to WCAR is a clear example of
their indifference to racism."
William B. Wood, a State Department deputy assistant secretary, assured
McKinney that the president supported the racism conference but said he
worried that the issues in question would overshadow other pressing
Those worries deepened after a preparatory meeting in Geneva late Monday,
when a non-governmental body helping to organize the conference proposed to
condemn Israel for its "escalation of the third holocaust perpetrated"
against the people of Palestine.
That proposal drew harsh criticism from U.N. High Commissioner Mary
Robinson, who is presiding over the two-week-long meeting.
At the subcommittee meeting, critics of the proposal repeatedly used the
word "hijack" to describe "attempts by some Arabs" to steer the conference
"It is terribly wrong when, amongst all nations on this planet, only one,
the state of Israel, is singled out," Rabbi Marvin Hier said in his
testimony to the panel. "Of course, Israel is not above criticism, but how
credible can this conference be when nations with horrible human rights
violations . . . escape any criticism?"
� 2001 The Washington Post Company
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