The Netherlands and Australia have joined a growing Western boycott of
a United Nations conference on racism, voicing concern the forum will
be used as a platform to attack Israel.
The United States said Saturday it would skip the conference, citing
what the State Department called "objectionable language" in a text
prepared for the Geneva summit.
Canada and Israel have also said they will not attend the conference
set to open Monday, while Italy also considered staying home. The
European Union was to meet late Sunday to decide whether to send
Critics say planners undermined the conference by scheduling an
opening-day address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has
called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
Despite the controversy, Pope Benedict has praised the conference and urged countries join forces to eliminate intolerance.
Muslim nations critical of Israel are also demanding protections aimed
at preventing what they say are Western insults to Islam. The Muslim
demands stem in large part from the 2006 publication in European
newspapers of cartoons depicting what many Muslim governments said were
insulting characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad.
U.N. planners organized the forum to measure progress in fighting
racial discrimination and xenophobia since a controversial 2001 racism
conference in Durban, South Africa.
The United States and Israel walked out of those talks over an attempt by some participants to link Zionism with racism.
Human rights groups had been urging the U.S. to attend the conference,
and called the boycott a "missed opportunity." New York-based Human
Rights Watch says the draft declaration has improved considerably since
negotiations first began.