U.S. WALKS OUT!
incensed at U.S. gov't withdrawal of low-level delegation from World
Conference Against Racism
by Askia Muhammad
White House Correspondent
DURBAN, South Africa
dragging its feet about the level of its participation, or whether to
send a delegation at all, the United States abruptly pulled out of the
Third United Nations Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance Sept. 3.
It was the third day of the meeting, which has been
racked by controversy surrounding Middle East tensions, and blame for
the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The U.S. boycotted both previous UN
conferences on racism—in 1978 and 1983—for precisely the same reason.
The 1978 declaration proclaimed its "solidarity with the Palestinian
people in their struggle for liberation."
"Despite extraordinary efforts by the American
government reaching back many months," Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the
Ranking Member of the House International Relations Committee and a
senior member of the U.S. delegation, told reporters at the conference
center, "it will prove impossible for the American delegation to
continue participating at this conference.
"Those who have made it their goal to hijack the
conference for their propaganda purposes, apparently have shown in the
course of the day, a degree of rigidity and unwillingness to compromise
in any reasonable sense." Rep. Lantos is strong supporter of Israel and
himself a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary.
"This means that a conference which had such high hopes
and such historic promise of beginning the new Millennium with a global
commitment to fight against discrimination in all its manifold ugly
forms, has fallen victim to its own discriminatory practices," Rep.
The host South African government called the U.S.
decision "unfortunate and unnecessary," promising that the meeting of
more than 6,000 delegates from some 150 countries will continue in the
spirit in which it had been convened and conducted up until the time of
the U.S. walkout.
"It will be unfortunate if a perception were to develop
that the U.S.A.’s withdrawal from the conference is merely a red-herring
demonstrating an unwillingness to confront the real issues posed by
racism in the U.S.A. and globally," Presidential Minister Essop Pahad
said in behalf of the South African government in a statement.
"We cannot lead from the rear," the Rev. Jesse Jackson
complained after the U.S. pullout, "nor lead by disengagement. We would
do well, rather than to react to the unfortunate painful dialogue
between the Palestinians and the Israelis, to break the cycle of anger
"The U.S. has a role to play not as an observer," he
continued. "The U.S. alone has the power to call Mr. Arafat and Mr.
Sharon, and convene them and have a truce, and move toward breaking the
cycle of pain."
The announcement was made just as Michael Southwick,
Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, was set to
meet with dozens of conference NGO delegates. The U.S. officials,
including Congressional Black Caucus Member Donna Christian-Christiansen
(D-V.I.), had to literally run from the meeting to their van.
Angry NGO leaders organized a march on the conference
center to protest the U.S. pullout.
Earlier, Rev. Jackson claimed to have negotiated an
agreement to eliminate language in conference documents that the Bush
administration considered offensive. That language described the Israeli
presence in the West Bank and Gaza as a "new kind of apartheid."
In a hand-written statement drafted during a meeting
between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Jackson, a senior Palestinian official
suggested that the Palestinian Authority wanted to quell the furor
surrounding the anti-Zionism language. The conference was "too important
to let it fail for whatever reason," said the statement, written by
Nabil Shaath, the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.
Black NGO participants criticized the Rev. Jackson for
his earlier role, however, accusing him of stirring "great confusion."
"The Black Radical Congress wishes to make clear that it
does not associate itself in any way with (the) Rev. Jackson’s apparent
satisfaction with the idea of omitting references to the Palestinian
situation in official documents of this conference," Humberton Brown,
international secretary of the Black Radical Congress said in a
"The Black Radical Congress remains unequivocally
supportive of the Palestinian resistance to the abuses of its national
and human rights perpetrated by the State of Israel, and we stand by our
belief that the official documents of this conference should refer
clearly and directly to the conditions of national oppression and racism
that burden the Palestinian people."
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who
came as a part of the official U.S. delegation, were at odds with their
government, openly expressing their frustration before the pullout. They
had to leave before the decision in order to return for the end of
Congress’s summer recess.
The U.S. pullout from the conference, "would not deter
us in our mission," CBC Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) told
reporters before the U.S. pull-out.
CBC members skirted the controversy, insisting that they
focused their attention on "racism" rather than the Middle East
situation. "The Middle East conflict is so sad," said Rep. Sheila
Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). "The U.S. and the world should spare no effort to
find a solution."
CBC members were also critical of President George W.
Bush’s decision not to let Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Black man
himself, participate in this historic meeting. U.S. complaints about the
conference’s "language" should not have derailed the good intentions of
the U.S. to participate in the discussions to find solutions to the
ages-old problems of racism.
The U.S. itself is a "racist country," several CBC
members complained, and had to be forced by concerted efforts by Reps.
Johnson (D-Tex), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) to
send a delegation in the first place. Then, Rep. Johnson told The
Final Call, after deciding to send a delegation that included Black
members of Congress, State Department officials instructed them not to
speak or engage in the official debate.
"Our voices will not be silenced," Rep. Johnson said at
a session hosted by the Black Leadership Forum.
Finally, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Southwick,
the delegation leader attempted to snub the opening session of the
conference by not attending. Reps. Johnson and Conyers took it upon
themselves to sit in the U.S. chairs until, she said, Secretary Powell
himself called and told his diplomats to "put someone in that chair."