Bully for Secretary of State Colin Powell for not attending the United Nations' World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which opened in Durban, South Africa, last Friday. Kudos to the Bush administration for doing the right thing.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is at the conference, has charged that Powell's absence will "isolate'' the United States. Fact is, the United Nations has chosen to isolate itself. It is no accident that the United Nations has begun its confab against racism with the support of Jackson, who once had to apologize for an anti-Semitic slur, and without America's first African-American secretary of state.
It ought to have been a no-brainer: You don't precede a meeting against racism by engaging in anti-Semitism. You don't say you are going to challenge racism, and then say Israel is to blame for everything in the Middle East -- there's a lot of anti-Semitism in the Middle East. Pre-conference sessions emerged with language attacking Israel's "racist policies'' and questioning whether to capitalize the word Holocaust.
No wonder the House voted 408-3 in favor of a resolution asking President Bush not to send Powell. As Rep. Tom Lantos (D), San Mateo, Calif., noted, the pre-conference drafts were "dripping with hate.'' He rightly charged that the confab had become "a conference against Israel.''
And how did the United Nations respond? Diplomats reworded some conference documents. Then U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson announced, "One thing I would like to reaffirm is that there is a clear understanding that the formulation 'Zionism equals racism' has been done away with.'' Wrong. The anti-Israeli language was given a face-lift. Same message, different words.
When the U.N. crowd hasn't been slinging its arrows at Israel, America has been the target. Witness the reparations issue, which clearly gave Powell another reason to stay home.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the conference is supposed to promote tolerance. Ha. You can't promote tolerance while demanding money for centuries-old grievances. It's the trading in old wounds and schisms that keeps racism alive from Kosovo to Ireland.
Besides, the call for reparations serves as an invitation to remind attendees that Africans participated in the slave trade, while many Americans are the children and grandchildren of immigrants who emigrated to the United States long after slavery ceased.
You cannot, in the name of tolerance, propose punishing people for something their ancestors may or may not have done. Annan says he wants participants to "speak out against stereotyping wherever it occurs.'' But his conference wants to point fingers at nations -- not coincidentally rich nations -- and brand them for slavery, which has been outlawed here for 136 years.
And why focus on past slavery when the evil institution has resurfaced in Africa today? (The answer: There's no money in fighting slavery in present-day Africa.) In stoking the call for reparations to African nations -- note, not reparations to the American descendants of slaves -- participants have shown they are willing to turn the noble fight against racism into yet another excuse to shake down the United States for more money.
To commemorate the conference, Robinson and other diplomats planted a tree in Durban as a symbol of "the victims of racism.'' Nice gesture. Too bad they weren't thinking about those victims when they decided to turn the conference into a rant against Israel and the United States.