Canada ‘disassociates’ itself
from final WCAR text
By RON CSILLAG
Excerpts from final text
Despite Canada’s attempt to distance itself from controversial language on Israel and Palestinians, Canadian Jewish Congress denounced the final declaration, calling it "tainted."
Working non-stop for nearly 24 hours after the conference was supposed to end last Friday, the 153 nations in attendance hammered out a declaration recognizing the injustice of slavery and colonialism, and referring only to the "plight" of Palestinians.
But Canadian delegation head Hedy Fry issued a "statement of reservation" immediately after the agreement was announced, saying Canada wished to "disassociate" itself from those parts of the text dealing with the Middle East.
"We are not satisfied with this conference," Fry said in remarks directed at the conference chair. "Canada is still here today only because we wanted to have our voice decry the attempts at this conference to delegitimize the state of Israel, and to dishonour the history and suffering of the Jewish people.
"We believe, and we have said in the clearest possible terms, that it was inappropriate to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in this forum. That is why the Canadian delegation registers its strongest objections and disassociates itself integrally from all text in this document directly or indirectly relating to the situation in the Middle East.
"We state emphatically," said Fry, "that this text is ultra vires; it is outside the jurisdiction and mandate of this conference."
Added delegate Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, "Too much time has been spent on an issue which does not belong here. We want to condemn at this conference the attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel."
The Middle East and charges of anti-Semitism took up a good portion of the conference’s time, resulting in nine days of brinksmanship, recrimination and the quitting of the meeting by Israel and the United States. Western delegates feared a final declaration would condemn Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. But the text does not specifically criticize Israel or mention Zionism.
Canada was under pressure from Jewish groups to quit the conference when anti-Zionist rhetoric and language appropriating Holocaust imagery to describe treatment of Palestinians reached its apex. But Ottawa, Fry told Canadian Press, made the right decision by staying.
"I think there was a great deal of value in our staying," Fry told CP shortly after she bluntly expressed displeasure at aspects of the conference that dealt with the Mideast.
"We didn’t achieve everything [on Canada’s agenda], but we felt if we were not there, we would not have been able to influence a lot of the stuff that we influenced: things like the indigenous peoples text with regard to past injustices and [the] text with regard to the Middle East.”
Despite Canada’s stance, Canadian Jewish Congress has denounced the final declaration. In a telephone interview last Sunday from Halifax, where CJC national officers were meeting, president Keith Landy called it an "attempt at appeasement and compromise that was unacceptable."
Landy, who attended most of the Durban conference, called the final statement "tainted," and fears it will do little to combat racism and may even hurt Mideast peace with its call for Palestinian self-determination in an independent state (see page 5 for text excerpts).
Landy also found it troubling that references in the text to the Holocaust were made under the "Middle East" heading.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is political and territorial and had no place at the conference, Landy said. The attempt to placate and appease the Arab bloc resulted in an absurd final declaration, he added.
"The United Nations has once again discredited itself as a body able to promote global peace and security," he said.
In a statement issued from Halifax, CJC said the inclusion in the final draft of a reference to the Palestinian Œright of return’ "is a transparent attempt to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination and is the most obvious of many unacceptable elements."
CJC said it appreciated Fry’s efforts to dissociate Canada from parts of the text on the Middle East. "Nevertheless, we strongly believe that little was to be gained from Canada’s continued participation, and it ought to have left."
According to reports, Muslim countries objected to efforts to delete additional text that many delegates felt indirectly referred to Palestinians, including a paragraph that said "foreign occupationŠ is among the forms and sources of racial discrimination."
Canada, Brazil and the European Union said they would vote against the paragraphs had they remained in the text. And the EU, backed by Canada and others, refused to allow the conference to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Arab states said the final draft was watered down.
"Despite the fact that the text expresses concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation, it failed to condemn the discriminatory policies and practices of Israel," according to a statement by the Organization of Islamic Conference.
"Regrettably, our repeated attempts to initiate negotiations on this issueŠ have been thwarted by other parties," it said.
Israel’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying the country "expresses satisfaction," but that the final conference document was "not the best."
"The world rejected the attempts of the radical Arab nations to take over the conference and damage its intentions by turning it into a stage for attacking Israel," it said.