July 18, 2001

UJC and JCPA Member Agencies

Hannah Rosenthal, Executive Vice Chair

UN World Conference Against Racism


JCPA and UJC member agencies this week participated in a conference call to deal with ongoing efforts by Arab and Muslim states to use the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), scheduled for early September in Durban, South Africa, as a forum to attack Israel and to revive the old canard equating Zionism with racism. 

The JCPA is playing a coordinating role facilitating the work of national and local member agencies as we prepare to address this challenge.  We are also disseminating information about the Jewish community’s concerns to foreign ministries, State Department officials, Members of Congress, and Non-Governmental Organization partners (NGO’s) participating in the conference. The call was one of a series of regularly scheduled UJC/JCPA sponsored calls to address issues of mutual concern. It enabled JCPA and UJC constituencies to hear how Israel and the organized American Jewish community are responding, and what individuals and communities can do.

Presenters included Ambassador Aaron Jacob, Deputy Permanent Representative at Israel's mission to the United Nations, Felice Gaer, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and Reva Price, JCPA Washington Representative.  Also participating were Sybil Kessler, Policy Associate for Israel and Zionist Affairs at Hadassah, and Stacy Burdett, ADL Director of Government and National Affairs. The call was hosted by Lynn Lyss for the UJC and Lois Frank, for the JCPA. 

During presentations, the following points and action recommendations were made:

  • The following are key conference objectives: to review progress made against racial discrimination, to reappraise obstacles to further progress and to devise ways to overcome them; to increase the level of awareness about the scourges of racism and its consequences; to formulate concrete recommendations on ways to increase effectiveness of UN activities and mechanisms through programs aimed at combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

  • Attention has been diverted from these very important objectives by efforts, during preparation of final conference documents – a declaration and program for action – to introduce language that would turn the conference into an attack on Jews and Israel.  Examples include:

    • Bracketing of references to the problem of anti-Semitism and actions to curb it, signaling lack of agreement on whether to include this language in the final conference document;
    • Attempts to link the term anti-Semitism to other language that would distort its meaning, as in “anti-Semitism and Zionist practices against Semitism;”

    • Language that would trivialize and relativize the meaning of the Holocaust by referring to multiple “holocausts” or by linking it to such phrases as “and the genocide in Palestine;
    • Attempts delegitimize Zionism by referring to the “racist practices of Zionism” and the “racial supremacy of the Zionist movement;”

    • Language equating settlements with foreign occupation that could become a weapon to isolate and condemn Israel.
  • Generally documents produced by UN conferences deal in a generic way with practices, policies, programs, avoiding country-specific messages that would politicize the conference and undermine its humanitarian mission.  Yet, Israel alone is singled out in WCAR documents. Conference goals are being subverted by a politicized agenda.  For example:  [We express our deep concern about the practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinians as well as other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories which have an impact on all aspects of their daily existence such that they prevent the enjoyment of fundamental rights, and call for the cessation of all the practices of racial discrimination to which the Palestinians and the other inhabitants of the Arab territories occupied by Israel are subjected].
  • UN delegates seem not to understand the serious threat inherent in attempts to reintroduce “Zionism is racism” formulations or other anti-Jewish phraseology.  They dismiss these activities as Middle East politics without grasping the deeper concern for Israel and for Jews.  They fail to understand how all Jews feel about Zion, to recognize the danger of efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist or to see the risk of establishing new anti-Semitic stereotypes.

  • Israel bashing and language that distorts the significance of the Holocaust are unacceptable to the U.S. government, and may be deal breakers in determining whether or not the U.S. participates in the conference.   However, activity within the American civil rights community, where the conference is providing opportunities for organizing around issues such as racial profiling and the call for transatlantic slave trade reparations, will make U.S. involvement important to key coalition partners.

  • The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is putting a premium on U.S. participation, is aware of concerns within the Jewish community, whose representatives participate in their meetings, including those addressing the UN Conference.  The LCCR is asking the U.S. to take a principled position on the importance of this conference, to actively engage in the conference and to work from within to address issues of concern.

  • Even if, as a very last resort, the U.S. and Israel ultimately do not participate,  there is a value in participation by Jewish NGOs, if only as witnesses, to tell our story and to stand with those who condemn racism.  American Jewish organizations participating in the NGO Forum, August 28-31, and in the diplomatic conference, which follows it include the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, JCPA, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, and the Simon Weisenthal Center.   


  • Ask Members of Congress to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter (attached) being circulated by Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) -- which will be sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan  -- expressing serious concern about the divisive and hate-filled tone emerging in preparations for the World Conference Against Racism, specifically efforts to resurrect the old canard equating Zionism with racism.  The letter thanks leaders for their efforts up to this point and urges continued work to eliminate this type of provocative and inflammatory language from conference documents. 

  • JCRCs that maintain ongoing relations with local consular delegations should discuss these concerns with their diplomatic contacts and convey the need for the offending language to be removed.

  • Monitor and respond to media coverage of the issue.  Opinion pieces should be shared with JCPA staff who will be available to assist in developing responses.

  • If reference is made to the conference within intergroup coalitions, explain the Jewish community’s concerns (Use talking points that will be sent to you via e-mail tomorrow).

  • Participate in conference-related events locally to make the Jewish community’s concerns known. In the process, it is important to be sensitive to the concerns of other civil rights partners, such as the issue of reparations for slavery, and to tread with caution in these areas.  JCRCs should convey the following message: The Jewish community believes in the goals of the conference, in the opportunity it provides for victims of racism, and as a community we have a great deal to contribute to the process.

  • Let the JCPA know of anyone in your community plans to attend, in order to help expand the Jewish community’s networking capability.


Oppose anti-Jewish language at the United Nations Conference on Racism

Dear Colleague,

In 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution drawing a parallel between Zionism and Racism.  Though this resolution was ultimately rescinded in 1991, following the Madrid Conference, this issue has not been laid to rest. 

Nations preparing for the UN World Conference Against Racism are negotiating the language of a Declaration that will serve as a guide to future generations in addressing racism.  Tragically, this process is being hijacked by some to de-legitimize Israel, trivialize the Holocaust, and promote anti-Jewish hateful canards such as “Zionism is racism.”

Secretary General Kofi Annan called the Zionism equals racism resolution “a low point” in UN history.  Though Secretary Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have taken steps to eliminate this type of rhetoric from this conference, the offensive language is still on the table.

“We must use the occasion to denounce anti-Semitism in all of its manifestations.  This brings me to the lamentable resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1975, equating Zionism with racism and racial discrimination.  That was, perhaps, the low point in our relations; its negative resonance even today is difficult to overestimate.  Fortunately, the General Assembly rescinded this resolution in 1991.”

With the Middle East process on tenuous grounds, it is essential that this conference be used as a forum for reconciliation not divisiveness.  To that end, the attached letter to Secretary Powell and Kofi Annan strongly urges them to continue and intensify their efforts in the name of peace and cooperation.  

If you would like to sign on to the attached letter, please contact Tony Silberfeld of my office at 5-3965 or e-mail at tony.silberfeld@mail.house.gov


Joseph Crowley

Member of Congress

Dear Secretary Powell/ Secretary General Annan:

We are writing to express our serious concern regarding a divisive and hate filled tone emerging in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Racism. 

We appreciate your efforts and hope you will continue to work to eliminate this type of provocative and inflammatory language from this conference.

As you know, on November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly designated Zionism to be a from of racism in the following resolution:

“Recalling its resolution 1904 (XVIII) of 20 November 1963, proclaiming the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and in particular its affirmation that, “any doctrine of racial differentiation or superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous” and its expression of alarm at “the manifestations of racial discrimination still in evidence in some areas of the world, some of which are imposed by certain governments by means of legislative, administrative, or other measures,”

Recalling also that, in its resolution 3151 G (XXVIII) of 14 December 1953, the General Assembly condemned the unholy alliance between South African Racism and Zionism,

TAKING NOTE of the Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace 1975, proclaimed by the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, held at Mexico City from 19 June to 2 July 1975, which promulgated the principle that “international co-operation and peace require the achievement of national liberation and independence, the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, apartheid and racial discrimination in all its forms, as well as the recognition of the dignity of peoples and their right to self-determination,”

Taking note also of resolution 77 (XII) adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and government of the organization of African Unity at its twelfth ordinary session, held at Kampala from 28 July to 1 August 1975, which considered that “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being,”

Taking note also of the Political Declaration and Strategy to Strength International Peace and Security and to Intensify Solidarity and Mutual Assistance Among Non-Aligned Countries, adopted at the Conference of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Non-Aligned Countries held at Lima from 25-30 August 1975, which most severely condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace and security and called upon all countries to oppose this racist and imperialist ideology,

“Determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

Though this resolution was overwhelmingly rescinded in 1991, by the General Assembly in response to the Madrid Peace Conference, this case is far from closed.  During this delicate cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis after nine months of constant violence, this type of language introduced to a conference aimed at increasing cooperation and understanding throughout the world not only runs counter to the objective of this conference, but will surely exacerbate existing tensions in the Middle East.

We urge you to advocate to all nations of the world the importance of keeping inflammatory, anti-Israel language out of this important conference.

These harmful words will simply undermine the important work that nations around the world have been working to achieve.  This conference should foster a greater understanding between people of all color, creed, and ethnicity.  It should not be a forum to promote divisiveness.

Secretary General Kofi Annan himself lamented this ugly formulation in a speech in March of 1998:

“We must use the occasion to denounce anti-Semitism in all of its manifestations.  This brings me to the lamentable resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1975, equating Zionism with racism and racial discrimination.  That was, perhaps, the low-point in Jewish-UN relations; its negative resonance even today is difficult to overestimate.  Fortunately, the General Assembly rescinded the resolution in 1991.”

It is our hope that the upcoming Conference on Racism becomes a forum to promote peace and reconciliation among all people, not a forum to target Israel. There are too many issues that need to be discussed in a positive setting.  Outdated canards and unfair attacks should not be part of any conference in which the United States participates.

It is in the spirit of peace and cooperation that we respectfully request your immediate intervention to prevent a repeat of the resolution of 1975 from occurring.  We stand ready and willing to work with you in that endeavor.