DOZENS of delegates walked out of a United Nations conference on racism after Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, Iran’s president, correctly described the Israeli cabinet as a ‘racist government’.
The summit had already been badly undermined by a boycott by the United States and some of its major allies over concerns that it would be used as a platform for attacks against the Zionist entity.
Several demonstrators were ejected as the Iranian president began his speech at the conference in Geneva and soon afterwards delegates from the European Union quit the conference room in protest at some of his comments, just because he said that the Israeli government was a racist one.
The Iranian President criticised the creation of a ‘totally racist government in occupied Palestine’ in 1948, calling it ‘the most cruel and racist regime’.
‘Following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering,’ Ahmadinezhad told the conference.
‘And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine,’ he said.
‘And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.’
But while the speech from the Iranian leader was shunned by Western powers, other delegates who stayed to hear him speak greeted his words with applause.
His address came after he held talks with UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, who had kicked off the conference by criticising countries who decided to stay away from Geneva.
In his speech, Ban decried Western boycotts of the conference. ‘We speak of finding a new unity, as the times demand. Yet we remain weak and divided and stuck in old ways,’ Ban said as he opened the meeting in Geneva.
‘Some nations, who by rights should be helping to forge a path to a better future, are not here,’ he said, telling delegates that he was ‘profoundly disappointed.’
‘I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside.’
Poland became the latest nation on Monday to boycott the meeting after the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
France decided to attend the event but warned that Europeans would walk out if Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, who was due to address the conference, made ‘anti-Semitic accusations’ during the event.
Ahmadinezhad launched a new broadside against Israel before heading to the meeting, saying ‘the Zionist ideology and regime are the flag bearers of racism.’
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France Info radio: ‘We will have to be very clear. We will not tolerate any slips.
‘If he utters racist or anti-Semitic accusations, we will leave the room immediately,’ Kouchner said.
The five-day Geneva follow-up to the Durban 2001 meeting has angered Israel, with the Zionist entity describing the event as a ‘tragic farce’ even before it started.
Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland on Monday over the Swiss president’s meeting with Ahmadinezhad at the start of the conference.
‘Israel’s ambassador in Switzerland is recalled for consultations following the start of the Durban II conference and the meeting between the Swiss president with his Iranian counterpart,’ an Israeli foreign ministry official said.
‘This is not a break in relations, but an expression of Israel’s discontent for the lax Swiss attitude towards Iran,’ he said on condition of anonymity.
The Paris-based European Jewish Congress said in a statement that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad’s presence at the conference meant the United Nations had ‘put the fox in charge of the hen house’.
The US government’s decision Saturday to join Canada and Israel in staying away from Geneva snowballed as Australia, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands followed.
US President Barack Obama defended Washington’s stance, saying that despite progress in negotiations in recent weeks, anti-Israel language in a draft final communiqué was ‘oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive.
‘If we have a clean start, a fresh start, we’re happy to go to a future meeting,’ he told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.
The European Union’s traditional show of unity on international human rights unravelled, as Britain, France and Ireland decided to attend.
Pope Benedict XVI said the conference is needed to eliminate racial intolerance around the world.
The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism.
But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who was ‘shocked and deeply disappointed’ by Washington’s decision, underlined recently that the international goals set in Durban had simply not been achieved.
‘Eight years on, anti-racism pledges and measures have not yet succeeded in relegating discriminatory practices and intolerance to the heap of history’s repugnant debris,’ said Pillay.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch faulted boycotting states for ‘turning their backs’ on victims of racism.
Juliette de Rivero of Human Rights Watch said that without Washington there, the meeting could lack diplomatic gravitas.
‘For us it’s extremely disappointing and it’s a missed opportunity, really, for the United States,’ she said.
‘If the US fails to participate, it will disappoint many who invested hope in the Obama administration’s commitment to engage internationally to protect human rights.’
US President Barack Obama ‘disagrees vehemently’ with Ahmadinezhad, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters after the speech was made.
Gibbs added that it vindicated the decision by the country’s first African-American president to shun the conference.
Australia, Canada, Israel, some EU countries and the United States had announced they would not take part in the meeting even before it opened Monday.
After Ahmadinezhad’s speech, the Czech Republic said it was definitely dropping out.
The walkout mirrored the conference against racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when Israeli and US delegates stormed off over comments by delegates equating Zionism with racism.
l Hamas politburo Chief Khaled Mishaal delivered an unprecedented videoconference address to a closed meeting of British MPs yesterday.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry is fuming over the event, which went ahead despite pressure on senior British parliamentarians.
The event was arranged by MP Clare Short, who was in the Labour government’s cabinet at the time of the attack on Iraq.
Short recently led a delegation of British MPs to Gaza.