A harangue is not a dialogue

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As Americans and Jews who believe that targeting groups based on race, nationality or religion is inherently evil, we are appalled by the actions of the organizers of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which opens today in Durban, South Africa.

In the guise of fighting racism and apartheid, organizers have turned back the human-rights clock 26 years, resurrecting the spirit of the infamous U.N. "Zionism equals racism" resolution. Substituting "occupying power" for "Israel" does not lessen the vitriol of the conference plank, and singling out Israel as the world's foremost propagator of racism is preposterous.

Words, like stones, can and do hurt. That is why we applaud the decision of Secretary of State Colin Powell to boycott the conference because U.S. efforts to remove anti-Israeli statements from the agenda failed.

Meanwhile in Durban, hypocrisy abounds. The very groups that claim they are determined to end racism and apartheid are victimizing Jewish delegates at the conference.

Posters abound with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli images and slogans. Some non-governmental organization delegates are wearing T-shirts with such slogans as "Israel=Occupation=Apartheid." And anti-Jewish pamphlets are reportedly being circulated, some with images combining the swastika and the Star of David.

As Jews, we have much to contribute to the dialogue on racism. Because we have been the target for thousands of years, we continue to take an active role in preventing crimes against humanity, regardless of the race or religion of the victim.

But a harangue is not a dialogue. By boycotting this conference, Powell is telling the world that scapegoating and inflammatory language are not acceptable.

In the future, perhaps some of these nations that are denouncing Israel and world Jewry will be ready to look at their own records on human rights, moving beyond rhetoric to an honest discussion of racism. Unfortunately, that is not about to happen in Durban.