Chief Rabbi pulls out of UN race summit in Zionism row

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The leader of Britain's Jews, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has pulled out of a key role in a United Nations conference on racism in protest at the language used towards Israel.

Dr Sacks claims a draft declaration from the conference in Durban, South Africa, unfairly criticises Israel, denigrates the Holocaust and equates Zionism to racism.

The Chief Rabbi was part of the Eminent Persons Group at the conference, which is headed by the former South African president Nelson Mandela, and includes the former American president Jimmy Carter and the former Russian president Mikhael Gorbachev.

The group is intended to give "moral authority" to the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which begins next week.

Dr Sacks decided to boycott the conference in protest at the final draft of the declaration, which he says demeans Jewish suffering by referring to the Nazi Holocaust with a lower case "h", compares Zionism to racism and condemns Israel's policy towards Palestinians.

Dr Sacks said yesterday if the document was not changed it would "injure the fight against racism and damage the moral authority of the United Nations.

"Worst of all, it will threaten the very principle it seeks to protect: the dignity of the human person as a principle transcending the vicissitudes of particular conflicts and their resolution."

An Israeli government spokesman also condemned the draft document. He told the Jewish Chronicle: "If Israel is the absolute evil which the proposal indicates, it gives licence to terrorists to hurt Jews around the world."