Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Racism Conference


Will Obama Be a No-Go to Racism Conference?


By Marlene Nadle April 13, 2009

THERE IS A bitter irony in America’s first black president continuing to boycott the UN’s international conference on racism scheduled for this month.
President Barack Obama’s position on attending the conference translates roughly into: Do it our way or we won’t play. He has already gotten all references to Israel, to reparations for slavery, and to a proposed ban on speech defaming any religion dropped from the conference’s draft document. Yet, he is still unwilling to have the United States attend. Even if the administration bullies its way into getting its final points, it is not really a win for the United States.

Obama’s foot dragging and threat of a boycott will begin to deplete whatever goodwill he has created for himself and America in the nations of color. People in those countries, like many Americans, hoped he would head up the fight for racial justice, not become one of the obstacles to it.

The president’s decision to boycott will undercut his attempt in Turkey to reach out to the Muslim world. It has been reported that the boycott was urged by members of the Jewish community in both the United States and Israel. If he continues to cave to that pressure, it will be seen in the Muslim world as more proof that America cannot be counted on as an honest broker in any peace process.

Despite the harm his threat of a boycott is doing, his administration continues its power play. State Department Spokesman Robert A. Wood said the United States would reengage in the conference only if its document meets our criteria. The main remaining objection is to a section reaffirming the declaration of the 2001 UN conference on racism.

That 2001 declaration contains statements many Israelis consider hostile. Obama seems to be adopting a policy of killing the messenger rather than dealing with the message. He is reacting to the symptoms, not the cause. It is a narrow, ineffective response to Arab and world anger at Israel, some of it ugly, some of it anti-Semitic, but much of it rage over legitimate grievances. By limiting people’s right to speak their feelings and be heard, President Obama will have neutered the conference even if the United States finally participates in it.

Whatever Obama’s final decision on the boycott, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are planning to attend the conference. Although Congress members don’t usually travel when in session, the leadership of the House Foreign Relations Committee is said to be open to the idea.

Meanwhile, the Black Caucus is trying to persuade the administration to attend, but without great success so far. In a meeting with State Department officials, the Caucus asked the obvious question: Why not just reject the parts of the document Obama cannot support, and go to the conference anyway? There is nothing radical about that. It is standard UN procedure to place a reservation on a particular paragraph of a document and then go on to endorse the rest of the document.

Instead of dealing with the logic of the Caucus’s question, the State Department staff just sputtered on about people trying to hijack the conference.
In the run-up to the conference, the Congressional Black Caucus will continue to speak to State Department officials. Its case will be strengthened by a national Call-Obama campaign organized by the TransAfrica Forum, which is working with the Caucus. In its statement announcing the campaign, the Forum said, "There is a widespread belief in the administration that our communities simply do not care about the upcoming conference. We know differently. "
It was, perhaps, a way of saying Obama is taking America’s black community for granted.

The chilling effect on the goodwill toward the States will only grow with Obama’s continued silence and reluctance to commit to attending the conference. Hopefully, he is "flexible" enough and brave enough to reverse the boycott before it does more damage to America and his administration.


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