Palestinians Disrupt Jewish Meeting in S.Africa

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Pro-Palestinian activists disrupted a press conference by more than 20 Jewish groups at a United Nations (news - web sites)-backed non-governmental world racism conference on Thursday.

Plans by international Jewish groups to highlight what they said was ``intimidation against Jews and Israelis'' unraveled as activists from Arab and Islamic states and Palestinians tried to break up the event which came ahead of the start of the official U.N. conference on Friday.

The build-up to the conference, which was expected to address a range of human rights issues ranging from the rights of indigenous people to reparations for slavery, has been dominated by a threatened U.S. boycott if Israel was singled out as a ``racist'' state.

Several protesters shouted ``Zionism is racism, Israel is apartheid,'' and ``You have Palestinian blood on your hands'' to Jewish representatives who voiced concern at what they said was ''anti-Semitism'' at the Durban meeting.

``We're feeling intimidated, unable to communicate and shut down on the grounds of being Jewish. It's a new type of anti-Semitism,'' said Anne Bayefsky, a professor at New York's Columbia Law School.

Rana Nashashibi, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, heckled the delegates, accusing Israel of killing innocent Palestinians and Arabs and of supporting South Africa's former white-minority regime.

``What about the tanks, what about the shootings?'' Nashashibi said, surrounded and supported by Iranian women wearing the hejab, the Islamic head cover.

Palestinian and Jewish groups also held peaceful demonstrations in the non-governmental racism forum, but they were separated by a small contingent of police.


Washington fears Arab nations will use the conference to equate Zionism and Israel with racism and apartheid.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) decided against attending when the United States and Israel objected to language proposed by Arab and Islamic nations.

Instead, Washington said on Wednesday it would send a middle-ranking State Department official to Durban to try to amend the language on Israel, but would not necessarily take its seat at the opening plenary on Friday.

President Bush (news - web sites) said last week that the United States would take no part if the conference ``picks on'' or ``denigrates'' Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.

The conference takes place against a backdrop of intensifying violence between Israelis and Palestinians. About 700 people have been killed since the conflict erupted 11 months ago.

The draft U.N. race declaration does not link Zionism with racism, but it says: ``Foreign occupation founded on settlements...(is) a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity.''

The draft document also expresses ``deep concern about practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinians as well as other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories.''

The document also refers to ``ethnic cleansing of the Arab population in historic Palestine.''