Is US Right to Boycott Racism Conference?

It’s the first UN conference on racism in eight years, and the US has its first black president. Yet President Obama has elected to boycott the conference convening in Geneva Monday, albeit “with regret”. That means no US delegation to the conference, and Canada, German, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia have followed suit.
UN Conference on Racism
UN Conference on Racism

US opposition is centered on the belief that the conference will be used as a platform to criticize Israel. This issue shattered the last conference in Durban, South Africa back in 2001. Both Israel and the US walked out of that one.

How in the world does a conference on racism end up focusing on the Middle East in the first place? One of Monday’s headline speakers at the conference is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who has vowed to destroy Israel.

Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Racism is a deep and pervasive problem worldwide, and to focus the discussion on the Middle East, which, quiet as it’s kept, has its own history of racism, trivializes it.

Just take a look at the nations boycotting the conference, and ask yourselves what their history regarding race has been. Australia? How about the treatment of aborigines? Italy, the Netherlands, Germany? Doesn’t anyone want to discuss the legacy of colonialism? And then there’s the US. It seems strange that a black president would pull the plug on US participation in a conference on the biggest stain on his own country’s legacy.

If we are the only remaining superpower left on earth, why haven’t we taken on a greater role in fashioning the racism conference’s agenda? How about Secretary of State Clinton standing up and saying no, this won’t be about Israel, it will be about racism? In America, reaction to the boycott has already fallen along political lines. Supporters of Israel hail it, black organizations, including the Congressional Black Caucus, aren’t happy.

In the end, President Obama has made a mistake here. He should have sent a delegation of “heavy hitters” to the conference, and used American influence to re-fashion the conference’s agenda. The argument that any gathering trying to address racism should have Israel as a primary agenda gives aid and comfort to racist groups all over this planet.

Shouldn’t we know better than this by now?


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