Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, law professor Alan Dershowitz and former CIA Director James Woolsey are urging the United States to skip next year’s U.N. anti-racism conference in a full-page ad appearing Thursday in four newspapers.
The ad, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, was signed by 25 people, including religious, academic and legal figures. They label the conference anti-Semitic, and urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to announce that the United States will not participate.
The ad is scheduled to run in the New York Sun and The Washington Times, as well as the Washington political newspaper Politico and Roll Call, a newspaper designed for the use of members of Congress and others who work there.
The conference, known as Durban II for the South African city that will host it, follows the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. At that meeting, criticism of Israel prompted the U.S. and Israeli delegations to walk out.
A few months later, Israel’s then-deputy foreign minister, Michael Melchior, said the conference “hosted the most racist speeches and proposals to be heard in an international forum since World War II.” He added that “the conference became the mouthpiece for a new and venal form of anti-Semitism.”
The ad says that next year’s conference “seeks not to combat racism, but to promote and fuel hatred toward Israel and America. … There is an immediate way to act against growing anti-Semitism around the world ? say no to Durban II. Declare that the United States will not participate in a dialogue that promotes prejudice.”
Canada has already announced that it is boycotting the conference.
“We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance,” said Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, Jason Kenney.
At the United Nations, spokesman Brenden Varma said “racism is too important an issue for member states not to work out their differences.” He added that the conference will provide an opportunity to help stamp out racism.
The Bush administration already has taken a symbolic position opposing the conference. In December, the United States cast the only “no” vote when the General Assembly passed a two-year U.N. budget because of objections to funding for the conference that it considers anti-Israel.
The U.S. State Department has said, however, that a decision whether to attend or boycott will be made closer to the time of the conference.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican and frequent critic of the United Nations, asked Rice if the United States would say publicly that it would not participate.
“We have not made that statement, but let me assure you, Senator, we have no intention of participating in something like Durban I,” Rice responded.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said that although no decision has been made, “Based on past experience, we think it’s very unlikely that the U.S. will be willing to participate.”
Last month, the Senate passed a Coleman amendment to block the use of any U.S. money to finance the conference.
“After such a brazen display of racism, one would think that the leadership at the U.N. would have distanced itself from such a sham,” he said, referring to the first conference. “Instead, the U.N has set the stage for a reprise of the same old song and dance.”
Anne Bayefsky, who runs a U.N. watchdog Web site EYEontheUN.org, helped organize the ad effort and was among its signatories. Bayefsky said that she had initially expected the United States to skip the conference, but is not certain anymore.
“Secretary Rice was asked point-blank by Senator Coleman for an answer, and she didn’t give it,” she said.
Bayefsky said the ad was paid for by Lawrence Kadish, a board member at the Hudson Institute, a think tank. The Hudson Institute Web site identifies him as a commercial, retail and industrial real estate investor and philanthropist. Bayefsky said she did not know how much the ad buy cost.
Other signatories on the ad include former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett, political commentator Dick Morris and lawyer Floyd Abrams, who specializes in free speech cases.