World Economic Forum Takes Left Turn
Published on Monday, February 4, 2002 by the Associated Press
World Economic Forum Takes Left Turn
by Jim Krane
 
NEW YORK (AP) - They came in solidarity with this terror-wounded city.

But since they arrived, speaker after speaker at the World Economic Forum has lambasted America as a smug superpower, too beholden to Israel at the expense of the Muslim world, and inattentive to the needs of poor countries or the advice of allies.

World Economic Forum march
Opponents of the World Economic Forum march through New York City near the meeting of world business leaders amid heavy police security February 2, 2002. Between three and five thousand people turned out to protest the meeting. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
With the forum wrapping up its five-day session Monday, some of the criticism has been simple scolding by non-Western leaders. But a large measure has come in public soul-searching by U.S. politicians and business leaders.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., cited a global poll that characterized Americans as selfish and bent on arranging the global economy for their own benefit.

``We've not done our fair share to take on some of the global challenges'' like poverty, disease and women's rights, Clinton said Sunday. ``We need to convince the U.S. public that this is a role that we have to play.''

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates warned that the terms of international trade were too favorable to the rich world, a disparity that feeds resentment.

``People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us,'' Gates said. ``I think it's a healthy sign that there are demonstrators in the streets. They are raising the question of 'is the rich world giving back enough?'''

Held in the Swiss ski resort of Davos in its first 31 years, sponsors decided to move this year's forum to New York to show support for the city after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

About 2,700 corporate and political leaders, clergy and celebrities came to discuss the world's problems, and have spent much time dissecting U.S. foreign policy, its possible role in breeding terrorism and the potential harms of globalization.

Few protesters turned up Sunday near the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, site of the forum, on the fourth day of the conference. But mostly peaceful demonstrations miles from the hotel generated 159 arrests - the largest in a single day since the conference started - and one case of vandalism was reported.

The total arrested so far during the meeting grew to over 200, mostly for disorderly conduct.

In a curious convergence, the titans of business and politics at the meeting have seized on many of the same socially liberal issues that they have been accused of ignoring at past gatherings.

The forum's agenda may have taken some of the steam out of street protests, which were sparse except for Saturday's turnout of about 7,000 demonstrators, and has even paralleled issues under discussion at the World Social Forum, an anti-globalization conference under way in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

In Brazil, speakers on Saturday condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, with one comparing the practice to apartheid-era South Africa's creation of ``Bantustans,'' which were economically poor areas designated as homelands for blacks.

In New York, guests heard a similar message Sunday.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security adviser, warned that Palestinian violence risked evolving into large-scale urban terror, while Israel's response ``will slide into a pattern of behavior that resembles the South Africans.''

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Sunday he saw ``a ray of hope'' for Mideast peace. New talks with the Palestinians could lead to a cease-fire, and mutual recognition of a Palestinian state and Israel's right to exist, he said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II called for ``international intervention to help steer the parties from the brink,'' arguing that the ``burning injustice of Palestine'' had ``fed extremism around the world.''

Brzezinski called for Washington to create a parallel social campaign to temper the anger against its military campaign against terrorism, to ``appeal to a better future'' in poor countries.

``It's very easy for the U.S. to slide into a kind of global alliance for the sake of repression,'' Brzezinski said.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chided his colleagues in Congress for giving too much foreign aid to Israel, the largest recipient of American help, and said too little aid flows to the neediest.

``I've been critical of the aid we've given to Israel,'' Leahy said in an interview. ``But the same complaint could be made of a number of wealthy Muslim countries. They're not giving aid to the poorest of their own people.''

Copyright 2002 Associated Press

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