Conference Stance on Israel Is at Issue; Advocacy Groups Criticize White House
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009; A04
The Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document viewed as hostile toward Israel.
The preliminary conference document ran 45 pages and called for reparations for slavery, condemned the “validation of Islamophobia,” and asserted that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is grounded in racism.
In response to objections raised by negotiators from the Obama administration, the document has since been dramatically shortened and many of its sharp statements have been removed. Still, the administration seems uninterested in attending, stoking frustration among activist groups who have said that it is ironic that the nation’s first black president would choose that course.
“For his administration not to be present at this global conversation is a disappointment,” said Imani Countess, senior director for public affairs at TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group that focuses on U.S. foreign policy. “For President Bush not to participate, that would have been expected. For Barack Obama’s administration not to participate sends a disappointing signal. It says these issues are not important.”
TransAfrica sent a letter to Obama late last week urging him to send a delegation to the United Nations-sponsored meeting, saying that to do otherwise would contradict his promise to engage even with nations that hold views that are contrary to those held by the United States. Moreover, the letter said, U.S. participation would send an important message to the rest of the world.
“U.S. participation in the conference is critical for both symbolic and political reasons,” said the letter, which was also signed by other leaders, including Jesse L. Jackson and the heads of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
“Nations are watching your administration and will decide either to withdraw, or to lower the level of their participation, if the U.S. doesn’t participate,” the letter continued. “Reduced global participation would mark a significant setback to efforts to overcome racial inequality around the world.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that although progress has been made in revising the draft text, concerns remain. “We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed, so that the United States can reengage the conference negotiations in the hopes of arriving at a conference document that we can support,” he said.
The White House offered no further details. But last week a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to Obama congratulating him for deciding to boycott the meeting, which is scheduled to begin Monday.
“We applaud you for making it clear that the United States will not participate in a conference that undermines freedom of expression and is tainted by an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic agenda,” said the letter signed by seven members of Congress.
Israel and several Jewish advocacy groups have urged the United States and other nations not to take part in the conference. Canada and Italy have said they will not attend, and several other U.S. allies, including Australia, are considering not participating, according to representatives of several advocacy groups.
The week-long conference is expected to bring together delegations from countries around the globe and representatives of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations to take stock of the progress made in fighting bias since the last World Conference Against Racism was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. At that gathering, much of the discussion focused on Israeli treatment of Palestinians. The United States walked out of that meeting to protest an effort to compare Zionism to racism.
The United Nations has been working on next week’s conference for the past three years, mostly without input from the United States. After Obama took office, he sent a delegation to Geneva, raising hopes that his administration would become a full partner in the effort. Hopes were lifted further when Obama had the United States rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council.
But after sending the delegation to a preliminary meeting in Geneva, the administration declared the meeting’s document unfocused, hostile to Israel and essentially not salvageable. After that, the document was heavily edited. Its original length was cut by half and specific mentions of Israel and the need to pay reparations for slavery were deleted.
The new draft created a sense among advocacy groups that the administration would reverse its decision. But the changes have apparently not been sufficient to win Obama’s support.
“This is a big blow,” Countess said. “Given the high priority the administration places on international engagement and multilateralism, this is just a little bit baffling.”
Not necessarily so baffling:
Friday, August 10, 2007
World Report and chair of the Conference of Presidents
of Major Jewish American Organizations, one of the
largest pro-Israel lobbying groups.
LESLIE MOONVES, president of CBS television,
great-nephew of David Ben-Gurion, and co-chair with
Norman Ornstein of the Advisory Committee on Public
Interest Obligation of Digital TV Producers, appointed
JONATHAN MILLER, chair and CEO of AOL division of
NEIL SHAPIRO, president of NBC News
JEFF GASPIN, Executive Vice-President, Programming,
DAVID WESTIN, president of ABC News
SUMNER REDSTONE, CEO of Viacom, “world’s biggest media
giant” (Economist, 11/23/2) owns Viacom cable, CBS and
MTVs all over the world, Blockbuster video rentals and
Black Entertainment TV.
MICHAEL EISNER, major owner of Walt Disney, Capitol
RUPERT MURDOCH, Owner Fox TV, New York Post, London
Times, News of the World (Jewish mother)
MEL KARMAZIN, president of CBS
DON HEWITT, Exec. Director, 60 Minutes, CBS
JEFF FAGER, Exec. Director, 60 Minutes II. CBS
DAVID POLTRACK, Executive Vice-President, Research and
SANDY KRUSHOW, Chair, Fox Entertainment
LLOYD BRAUN, Chair, ABC Entertainment
BARRY MEYER, chair, Warner Bros.
SHERRY LANSING. President of Paramount Communications
and Chairman of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture
HARVEY WEINSTEIN, CEO. Miramax Films.
BRAD SIEGEL., President, Turner Entertainment.
PETER CHERNIN, second in-command at Rupert Murdoch’s
News. Corp., owner of Fox TV
MARTY PERETZ, owner and publisher of the New Republic,
which openly identifies itself as pro-Israel. Al Gore
credits Marty with being his “mentor.”
ARTHUR O. SULZBERGER, JR., publisher of the NY Times,
the Boston Globe and other publications.
WILLIAM SAFIRE, syndicated columnist for the NYT.
TOM FRIEDMAN, syndicated columnist for the NYT.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, syndicated columnist for the
Washington Post. Honored by Honest Reporting.com,
website monitoring “anti-Israel media.”
RICHARD COHEN, syndicated columnist for the Washington
JEFF JACOBY, syndicated columnist for the Boston Globe
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Inst., regular
columnist for USA Today, news analyst for CBS, and
co-chair with Leslie Moonves of the Advisory Committee
on Public Interest Obligation of Digital TV Producers,
appointed by Clinton.
ARIE FLEISCHER, Dubya’s press secretary.
STEPHEN EMERSON, every media outlet’s first choice as
an expert on domestic terrorism.
DAVID SCHNEIDERMAN, owner of the Village Voice and the
New Times network of “alternative weeklies.”
DENNIS LEIBOWITZ, head of Act II Partners, a media
KENNETH POLLACK, for CIA analysts, director of Saban
Center for Middle East Policy, writes op-eds in NY
Times, New Yorker
BARRY DILLER, chair of USA Interactive, former owner
of Universal Entertainment
KENNETH ROTH, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
RICHARD LEIBNER, runs the N.S. Bienstock talent
agency, which represents 600 news personalities such
as Dan Rather, Dianne Sawyer and Bill O’Reilly.
TERRY SEMEL, CEO, Yahoo, former chair, Warner Bros.
MARK GOLIN, VP and Creative Director, AOL
WARREN LIEBERFORD, Pres., Warner Bros. Home Video Div.
of AOL- TimeWarner
JEFFREY ZUCKER, President of NBC Entertainment
JACK MYERS, NBC, chief.NYT 5.14.2
SANDY GRUSHOW, chair of Fox Entertainment
GAIL BERMAN, president of Fox Entertainment
STEPHEN SPIELBERG, co-owner of Dreamworks
JEFFREY KATZENBERG, co-owner of Dreamworks
DAVID GEFFEN, co-owner of Dreamworks
LLYOD BRAUN, chair of ABC Entertainment
JORDAN LEVIN, president of Warner Bros. Entertainment
MAX MUTCHNICK, co-executive producer of NBC’s “Good
DAVID KOHAN, co-executive producer of NBC’s “Good
HOWARD STRINGER, chief of Sony Corp. of America
AMY PASCAL, chair of Columbia Pictures
JOEL KLEIN, chair and CEO of Bertelsmann’s American
ROBERT SILLERMAN, founder of Clear Channel
BRIAN GRADEN, president of MTV entertainment
IVAN SEIDENBERG, CEO of Verizon Communications
WOLF BLITZER, host of CNN’s Late Edition
LARRY KING, host of Larry King Live
TED KOPPEL, host of ABC’s Nightline
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN Reporter
PAULA ZAHN, CNN Host
MIKE WALLACE, Host of CBS, 60 Minutes
BARBARA WALTERS, Host, ABC’s 20-20
MICHAEL LEDEEN, editor of National Review
BRUCE NUSSBAUM, editorial page editor, Business Week
DONALD GRAHAM, Chair and CEO of Newsweek and
Washington Post, son of
CATHERINE GRAHAM MEYER, former owner of the Washington
HOWARD FINEMAN, Chief Political Columnist, Newsweek
WILLIAM KRISTOL, Editor, Weekly Standard, Exec.
Project for a New American Century (PNAC)
RON ROSENTHAL, Managing Editor, San Francisco
PHIL BRONSTEIN, Executive Editor, San Francisco
RON OWENS, Talk Show Host, KGO (ABC-Capitol Cities,
JOHN ROTHMAN, Talk Show Host, KGO (ABC-Capitol Cities,
MICHAEL SAVAGE, Talk Show Host, KFSO (ABC-Capitol
Cities, San Francisco) Syndicated in 100 markets
MICHAEL MEDVED, Talk Show Host, on 124 AM stations
DENNIS PRAGER, Talk Show Host, nationally syndicated
from LA. Has Israeli flag on his home page.
BEN WATTENBERG, Moderator, PBS Think Tank.
ANDREW LACK, president of NBC
DANIEL MENAKER, Executive Director, Harper Collins
DAVID REZNIK, Editor, The New Yorker
NICHOLAS LEHMANN, writer, the New York
HENRICK HERTZBERG, Talk of the Town editor, The New
SAMUEL NEWHOUSE JR, and DONALD NEWHOUSE own Newhouse
Publications, includes 26 newspapers in 22 cities; the
Conde Nast magazine group, includes The New Yorker;
Parade, the Sunday newspaper supplement; American City
Business Journals, business newspapers published in
more than 30 major cities in America; and interests in
cable television programming and cable systems serving
1 million homes.