WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Obama administration is boycotting the 10-year commemoration of a global conference to combat racism because previous meetings have included what it called "ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism."
The first conference, which took place in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, focused in large measure on Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Delegates produced a draft resolution at the conference that equated Zionism with racism.
The U.S and more than a half-dozen other nations boycotted a subsequent U.N. conference on combating racism held in Geneva in April 2009 over concerns about the treatment of Israel. European delegates at the conference walked out of the conference after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against Israel during his speech, calling it a "repressive, racist regime."
In a letter to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Joseph E. Macmanus said the U.S. would boycott the conference. He wrote that the Obama administration had voted against the United Nations resolution establishing the meeting because earlier events "included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism and we did not want to see that commemorated."
In a speech to the AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobby, President Barack Obama promised “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
"I commend the Obama administration decision to withdraw from this event," Gillibrand said in a statement. "It is an insult to America that the United Nations has decided to hold the Durban III conference in New York City just days from the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks."
The meeting is to be held on September 21 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.