The World Conference Against Racism entered its second day today with attention focused on tackling accusations of racism in the Middle East - an issue that threatened to overwhelm the agenda.
Conference committees were due to work on the wording of a final declaration, a draft of which has been condemned by the United States for its anti-Israel language.
The White House, which has called parts of a draft declaration anti-Semitic, said American diplomats would leave the conference in Durban, South Africa, if the provisions were not removed.
In spite of an announcement yesterday by American civil rights leader the Rev Jesse Jackson that the Palestinians had decided not derail the conference by singling out Israel as a racist state, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of ‘‘racist practices’’ against the Palestinians.
Almost a year into the Palestinian uprising, Arab nations have pushed to make Israel the main issue at the conference.
Arafat’s harsh words undercut Jackson’s efforts to solve the symbolic and semantic nature of the dispute.
Jackson said he had urged Arafat to drop his support for a summit declaration that would label Israel as a racist state and equate Zionism with racism.
Zionism, the movement that founded Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, has also come under attack in street demonstrations.
Palestinian officials later accused Jackson of being ‘‘overzealous’’ and said they would still seek condemnation of what they called Israel’s ‘‘racist practices’’.
‘‘What we can hope for is that this conference will say what is bad, what is just in the face of this bloody tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people. It is a colonial, racist plot, a plot of aggression, of uprooting, of taking over land as well,’’ Arafat told a round-table discussion with world leaders.
‘‘This brutality, this arrogance is moved by a supremacist mentality, a mentality of racial discrimination,’’ he said.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Noam Katz reiterated his country felt that the racism conference was not the appropriate forum to discuss the Middle East conflict.
‘‘We are not here at the conference to discuss, to deal with specific political problems. We are here to create a united front against racism,’’ Katz said.
Jackson, when asked for his reaction to the speech, pointed out that Arafat had not condemned Zionism.
Before Arafat’s speech, the American civil rights leader announced that the Palestinian leader had indicated to him that he would lobby against a conference declaration condemning Israel as a racist state.