The decision by the US administration not to take part in a United Nations event in September to mark the tenth anniversary of the controversial 2001 Durban conference on combating racism has been welcomed by the World Jewish Congress. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, praised the US's "determination to not participate in nor lend legitimacy to another international event that politicizes and undermines the battle against racism and discrimination by promoting anti-Israel canards. We call upon the other member states of the UN to join the US and Canada in not attending." Lauder added: "It is our fervent hope that the international community will one day unite in a genuine effort to defeat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism in a United Nations that will be free of all influences that defeat its true purpose.”
In a letter to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, US State Department official Joseph Macmanus had stated that the US did not want to take part in an event which commemorated "ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism". The World Conference Against Racism took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The event was criticized for descending into a forum to attack Israel, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat denouncing Israel in a speech and an attempt to reintroduce the "Zionism equals racism" UN resolution of 1975.
The 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva caused a similar outcry after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to make the opening-day address. In his speech he accused Israel of being the most racist country in the world. The United States, Israel and several other nations chose not to attend the event. Several Western delegations walked out of Ahmadinejad's speech (picture), but most delegations as well as senior UN figures, including the UN human rights commissioner, remained seated.
Macmanus pointed out that in December, the US had voted against the resolution establishing the follow-up event because the original had "unfairly singled out Israel and included language inconsistent with US traditions of robust free speech." He said: "We share your concern about the Durban commemoration's timing and venue as just days earlier we will have held solemn ten-year memorials for those murdered in the 11 September terrorist attacks." The letter added: "The United States is fully committed to upholding the human rights of all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, and bigotry."