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U.S. boycotts racism conference, says it 'singles out' Israel

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. says U.N. conference conflicts with "commitment to unfettered free speech"
  • Administration warned of boycott 2 months ago if changes to document weren't made
  • Current draft is improved, but "remaining concerns" cause U.S. to shun forum
  • Congressional Black Caucus "deeply dismayed" by decision
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is boycotting a U.N. conference on racism next week over a document that "singles out" Israel in its criticism and conflicts with the nation's "commitment to unfettered free speech," the U.S. State Department said Saturday.

The Congressional Black Caucus criticized the boycott, saying President Obama's decision "set the cause back."

The Congressional Black Caucus criticized the boycott, saying President Obama's decision "set the cause back."

The Obama administration made the decision not to attend the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland," with regret," said the State Department in a statement.

Two months ago, the administration warned it would boycott the conference if changes were not made to the document to be adopted by the conference.

In recent weeks, discussions over the document fueled several revisions, but the changes to the language didn't meet U.S. expectations, the statement said.

State Department officials said the document contains language that reaffirms the Durban Declaration and Programme of Actions from the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, which the United States said it won't support. The 2001 document "prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians," the statement said.

Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Israel also said they would boycott the conference.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the 2001 document unfairly "singled out" Israel.

"Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the Review Conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views," he said.

"Israel regrets that the conference ... has once again become hostage to one-sided, non-constructive politicization and biased rhetoric," Israel's ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, said in a statement Sunday.

Disagreements over the Middle East and slavery in 2001 threatened to derail the conference goal of creating a global blueprint for fighting discrimination. At the time, Israel said it was disappointed so much of the conference focused on its relations with Palestinians.

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The Obama administration also said recent additions to the document regarding "incitement" contradict the United States' stance on free speech.

Still, the United States "will continue to work assiduously" with all nations "to combat bigotry and end discrimination," the statement said.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was "shocked and deeply disappointed" at the boycott.

"A handful of states have permitted one or two issues to dominate their approach to this issue, allowing them to outweigh the concerns of numerous groups of people that suffer racism and similar forms of intolerance to a pernicious and life-damaging degree on a daily basis all across the world, in both developed and developing countries," she said in a statement. "These are truly global issues, and it is essential that they are discussed at a global level, however sensitive and difficult they may be."

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus said it was "deeply dismayed" by the decision made by the nation's first African-African president, saying it was inconsistent with administration policies.

"Had the United States sent a high-level delegation reflecting the richness and diversity of our country, it would have sent a powerful message to the world that we're ready to lead by example," the statement said. "Instead, the administration opted to boycott the conference, a decision that does not advance the cause of combating racism and intolerance, but rather sets the cause back."

CNN's Scott Spoerry contributed to this report.

All About Racism and BigotryIsraelU.S. Department of StateMiddle East ConflictU.S. Congressional Black Caucus

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