Waving a book of anti-Semitic cartoons distributed at the anti-racism conference in Durban, UN High Commissioner Mary Robinson - in a dramatic act of identification with the Jews vilified in the pamphlet - declared "I am a Jew" at an NGO dinner there Wednesday night.
Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris, said that after he showed Robinson the booklet, she stood up, waved it and said, "This conference is aimed at achieving human dignity. My husband is a cartoonist, I love political cartoons, but when I see the racism in this cartoon booklet, of the Arab Lawyers' Union, I must say that I am a Jew - for those victims are hurting. I know that you people will not understand easily, but you are my friends, so I tell you that I am a Jew, and I will not accept this fractiousness to torpedo the conference."
Samuels, head of the Jewish caucus at the anti-racism conference, said that the booklet, which he said contained vile anti-Semitic cartoons, was handed out at registration, and that several of the Jewish groups in Durban had complained about it.
Meanwhile, less than 24 hours before the Israeli delegation's plane to the UN anti-racism conference in Durban is scheduled to take off, no decision has yet been made on whether it will participate, or at what level.
"We'll have to decide in the morning, because our last plane out is tomorrow evening," one Foreign Ministry official scheduled to attend the conference said Wednesday night.
The US announced Wednesday it is dispatching Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Michael Southwick and a small delegation to South Africa to try to amend language in a proposed final communique that is offensive to Israel and Jews, before the conference opens tomorrow.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Southwick could leave Durban before the conference's official opening, if the language singling out Israel is not taken out.
The State Department announced earlier this week that Secretary of State Colin Powell would not attend the conference because of the anti-Israel clauses.
President George W. Bush said last week that the US would not take part at all if the conference "picks on" or denigrates Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
"We felt it was necessary for us to have representatives out there to do what the president asked us to do, and that's to work to eliminate this language," Boucher said Wednesday. "If we can do that, then we can make the further decisions on how we participate." If Southwick remains, Israel will have to decide whether to send Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior or dispatch a lower-level official.
Some American Jewish leaders, who lobbied Powell not to attend, are said to have urged Melchior not to go.
One Foreign Ministry source said if a delegation is sent, it should be at a level that will enable it to be as effective as possible.
Attempts by the US to have the anti-Israel language taken out of the proposed resolutions have not yet yielded any fruit, Israeli officials said.
A source briefed on the US plans said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had persuaded Powell that the language - including clauses describing Zionism as a movement based on racial superiority and others describing Israeli actions as ethnic cleansing - could be struck from the document only if an American delegation were present to support such a move.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley said he still hasn't decided whether to attend and that Canada has "very serious" concerns about a push to single out Israel.
Echoing earlier comments by Powell, Manley said, "The purpose of this conference should be to set a mark for countries to observe in trying to eradicate racist practices. It shouldn't be targeted at any countries. The text such as it is that I've seen goes much too far in singling out one country, in this case Israel."
According to a report received by the Foreign Ministry, a group from the World Union of Jewish Students, which set up a booth Wednesday at the non-governmental organization part of the conference, was confronted by Palestinian students chanting anti-Israeli slogans.
According to the ministry, the Jewish students sang: "All we are saying is give peace a chance." The Palestinians responded by chanting, "We will redeem Palestine through blood and fire." This was only one of many complaints registered by Jewish groups about harassment at the conference, though conference director Moshe More said no serious incidents have been reported so far.
"I feel besieged, there's anti-Semitism and hate literature at the world racism conference. It couldn't get much worse," said Anne Bayefsky, a professor from New York's Columbia University Law School. "Some of the Jewish delegates are hiding their accreditation badge because it identifies them as from Israel or as Jewish. Some are considering leaving Durban altogether." More said "protesters can express their views, but we have a strong contingent of police. There have been no physical attacks on anyone." Stacy Burdett, representing the Anti-Defamation League, said some of the 200 Jewish representatives in Durban were shocked by their treatment, and felt unfairly singled out.
Pamphlets circulated at the NGO meeting caricatured Jews, and posters carried slogans overlapping the Star of David with the swastika. Many pro-Palestinian delegates wore T-shirts with a slogan equating Israel with apartheid and colonialism, and calling it an occupying power that kills civilians. "There is a real sense of hostility toward Jewish people," said Karen Pollock, director of the London-based Holocaust Education Trust. "We are being intimidated." The South African police have said that the safety of the 7,000 delegates attending the meeting is a high priority, and more than 3,000 police and soldiers have been deployed.