France, Western powers to boycott UN anti-racism conference over concerns on 'anti-Semitic statements'

AFP , Friday 13 Aug 2021

Western countries believe that criticism of Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories frequently veered into open anti-Semitism

Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron

France will join other major Western powers and Israel in boycotting a UN anti-racism conference next month over concerns about "anti-Semitic statements" at past editions, the presidential office said on Friday.

The follow-up meeting of the Durban Conference, named after the South African city where the UN's anti-racism conference was held in 2001, is scheduled to bring together world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

But the format has been controversial since its inception, with critics led by Israel charging that the first edition in Durban was tarnished by virulent and undisguised anti-Semitism.

Several countries, including France, also boycotted follow-up meetings in 2009 and 2011.

President Emmanuel Macron "has decided that France will not take part in the follow-up conference due to take place this year as he is concerned by anti-Semitic statements made within the Durban Conference", his office said in a statement.

"France will continue to fight against all forces of racism and will be watching to make sure that the Durban follow-up conference is held in accordance with the founding principles of the United Nations," it said.

The United States, the UK, Australia, Israel and numerous other European countries have already announced they are boycotting this year's meeting.

"Following historic concerns regarding anti-Semitism, the UK has decided not to attend the UN's Durban Conference anniversary event," the British foreign ministry said in a statement.

The initial Durban conference, from August 31 to September 8, 2001, just days before the terror attacks of September 11, was marked by deep divisions on the issues of anti-Semitism, colonialism and slavery.

Western countries believe that criticism of Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories frequently veered into open anti-Semitism.

The US and Israel walked out of the conference in protest at the tone of the meeting, including over plans to include condemnations of Zionism in the final text.

At the 2009 conference, a speech by Iran's then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacking Israel sparked a temporary walkout by many European delegates.

"The original Durban conference was a show of hatred and anti-Israel propaganda and the follow-up events became events of anti-Israel incitement," said a spokeswoman for the Israeli foreign ministry, confirming Israel would not attend this year's event.

The Palestinian Authority said however it would be taking part in the conference "despite the position of several European countries".

Macron has vowed to fight against anti-Semitism in all its forms and last year warned of "the unbearable resurgence of anti-Semitism in our Europe". The government has in recent days expressed concerned over anti-Semitic slogans at protests against Covid-19 restrictions.

Short link: