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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Zionism issue threatens summit
Palestinian funeral
Mid-East clashes have renewed interest in the 1975 resolution
A UN conference on tackling racism could fail if Arab states insist that Zionism should be recognised as a form of racism, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

A 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism was repealed in 1991 after strong opposition from the US and Israel, but recent violence in the Middle East has led to calls for its revival.

It's extremely important that we find a way to address the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance

Mary Robinson
Zionism is the political movement which emerged in the late 19th century which successfully sought to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

White House officials warned on Friday that the US - modern Israel's main ally - would boycott the meeting, due to start on 31 August in Durban, South Africa, if its agenda included the issue.

Mrs Robinson said the matter had been raised at a recent meeting with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, but it would be inappropriate for the it to be reopened at next month's conference in Durban, South Africa.

Mary Robinson
Robinson raised the issue at a meeting with Arafat
She said Mr Arafat "fully understands... if there is an attempt to revive Zionism as racism we will not have a successful conference in Durban."

Mrs Robinson refused to say directly whether Mr Arafat favoured raising the issue though.

"He wanted a successful outcome in Durban. I'm not going to put other words in his mouth," she said.

US boycott threat

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Friday the US would fight any moves by "Third World nations" to "hijack a conference that should be aimed at combating racism."

He said: "The conference should not equate Zionism with racism... and if they do, the United States will not go."

The US would also boycott the conference, Mr Fleischer said, if organisers included calls for reparations to be paid to African countries by western nations that had benefited from slavery and colonisation.

"This conference should be focused on the future," he said. "Such looks back into a very tangled and complicated issue that's 200 years old will detract (from) the ability of this conference to focus on the here and now."

Washington boycotted two previous UN racism conferences in 1978 and 1983 because of the Zionism issue.

See also:

01 May 00 | Europe
UN links globalisation to racism
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