Islamic Human Rights Commission

1st July 2001



The United States is threatening to pull out of the planned United Nations Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance from 31st August to 7th September to be held in South Africa this August, on the pretext that discussions on whether ‘Zionism equals racism’ will derail the conference. The United States is unwilling to allow any criticism of the Zionist State of Israel, nor scrutiny of its policies that are perceived to be racist. US pressure in the form of threats to boycott the conference have been seconded by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who has similarly stated her opposition to any discussion of racism in relation to Israeli policies.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said: “The United States stands on the side of what is right. And the United States stands on the side of principle. And the United States can stand on the side of making certain that a variety of third world nations do not hijack a conference that should be aimed at combating racism and under the guise of combating racism turn this into a conference that itself smacks of anti-Semitism.”

Mary Robinson also said the UN had already dealt with the issue at great length, and re-opening it could put the success of the conference at risk: “I am acutely aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people, and dismayed at the continuing toll of deaths and injuries…[But] I believe that it is inappropriate to reopen this issue in any form here… If there is an attempt to revive the idea of Zionism as racism we will not have a successful conference,” she told reporters in Geneva. She argued that the issue was resolved 10 years ago when the UN repealed a previous General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism.

The US, along with other European powers including Britain, is also opposing demands from African countries for an apology and payment of compensation for slavery under colonialism. Even while the US and some European countries step up pressure on Germany to reimburse Nazi victims for their suffering, Britain, France, Germany and the US oppose any form of reparations for their historic complicity in atrocities committed during the colonial era, particularly their role in the West African slave trade. The fundamental reason appears to be, rather than any overbearing humanitarian concerns, that they “are wary of acquiring any financial obligations to remedy past wrongs.” (BBC News, 20 July 2001)

Suggested Action

Thus, once again the United States is attempting to manipulate the process of open discussion in an international forum to suit its own vested interests.

Please write to Mary Robinson to address her stance of opposition to the conference’s inclusion of discussion on Israel, Zionism and racism. See the specimen letter below for an idea of what issues to bring up in your letter, where the relevant postal address is included. Please also contact Mrs. Robinson’s office with your concerns by telephone or email at:

Tel: (41 22) 9179000, Email: webadmin.hchr@unog.ch
Specimen Letter

Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10


Dear Mrs Mary Robinson,

I am extremely dismayed and surprised at your opposition to the inclusion of discussion on Zionism and racism at the UN Conference Against Racism in South Africa.

When prominent Israelis themselves have noted the racist character of the Israeli state in its treatment of Palestinians, it would be nonsensical to attempt to prevent open discussion of this important issue. For instance, Ami Ayalon, retired head of Israel’s domestic security service Shin Bet, spoke against the Israeli policy of “separation” from the Palestinians at an annual meeting of the Israeli Finance Ministry’s budget division last year. He described it quite simply as apartheid.

The UN Conference Against Racism provides an ideal international forum to openly and intensively engage with exactly this issue. The role of Zionism in legitimising racist policies needs to be investigated if we are to eradicate the continuing evils of partied and injustice in the Middle East.

Quite rightly the scourge of anti-Semitism has been internationally recognised and condemned. Likewise Zionism, which is a philosophy that claims a racial group has superiority over others is and should be condemned as racism.

I urge you to prevent the sidelining of this issue in the international arena by countries such as the United States with a vested interest in forestalling any criticism of the apartheid character of the Israeli state. Unless the international community is allowed to collectively scrutinise these matters in an open dialogue, the human rights of Palestinians will continue to be violated due to Israeli discrimination.

We cannot look forward – as you suggest – unless we recognise what is happening now. Turning a blind eye to apartheid and racist discrimination and its roots is not an option.

Yours sincerely,