Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:18 pm (KSA) 16:18 pm (GMT)

Western leaders recoil in horror at Iran speech

Ahmadinejad accused Israel of being the "most cruel and racist regime"
Ahmadinejad accused Israel of being the "most cruel and racist regime"

Western leaders recoiled in horror Monday at a fierce anti-Israel speech by Iran's president at a U.N. conference on racism, as the Czech Republic joined a growing boycott of the week-long gathering.

As Washington denounced the Islamic Republic's "hateful rhetoric," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon effectively said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had betrayed his trust.

The Iranian leader used his podium in Geneva to criticize the creation of a "totally racist government in occupied Palestine" in 1948, calling the Israeli administration "the most cruel and repressive racist regime."

The conference had already been badly undermined when the U.S. and at least seven other Western nations decided to boycott the conference over concerns that it would be used as a platform for attacks against Israel.

The boycott left Ahmadinejad as the only head of state in attendance, and his speech produced the kind of language that many Western countries and Israel had feared.

Ahmadinejad's remarks prompted 23 European Union delegations to walk out

Ahmadinejad said the West "sent migrants from Europe, the United States... in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine."

His remarks prompted 23 European Union delegations to walk out in protest.

America and Israel had already led nine nations in boycotting the meeting.

Reactions

 It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President 
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters after the speech that President Barack Obama disagreed vehemently with Ahmadinejad.

"This is hateful rhetoric. It's, I think, one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determined that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do."

Ban attacked the "use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite.... It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President."

France and Britain led the condemnation from nations that had chosen to give Ahmadinejad the benefit of the doubt and send delegations.

Nicolas Sarkozy "condemns utterly this hate speech," the French president's office said, urging the EU to take a firm stand as a bloc.

But junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, told French television France would nevertheless stay for the rest of the conference.

 The Iranian president's virulent incitement and disgraceful racism... are a clear testimony, for whoever still needs any, that the conference's agenda has been hijacked 
Statement by the Israeli foreign ministry

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Ahmadinejad's comments as "offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable" -- but said London would not leave the conference.

The Czech foreign ministry however announced its definitive withdrawal from the five-day conference.

Israel's foreign ministry attacked the original decision to offer Ahmadinejad a first major Western platform.

"The Iranian president's virulent incitement and disgraceful racism... are a clear testimony, for whoever still needs any, that the conference's agenda has been hijacked," it said in a statement.

Playing to a domestic audience

 He is in mid-electoral campaign, he puts on his show and gets what he wants when chaos breaks out in the room 
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, one of the few Europeans to hear Ahmadinejad out, said the Iranian president had been playing to a domestic audience ahead of a June 12 vote.

"He is in mid-electoral campaign, he puts on his show and gets what he wants when chaos breaks out in the room," he said on television.

The Vatican delegation, present as observers only, also stayed in the conference hall.

Speaking to Radio Vatican, delegation member Father Federico Lombardi said "even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, there were extreme and unacceptable remarks."

But Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said Ahmadinejad's comments had brought shame "on the United Nations, world diplomacy and humanity as a whole."

Wiesel will give his own speech in Geneva on Tuesday, when several European Countries will hold ceremonies marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

Reaction of human rights organizations

 This was necessary to restore confidence in the United Nations as a forum to address frictions that can explode into xenophobic attacks, as occurred in her native South Africa last year when 62 foreigners were killed 
Navil Pillay, U.N. High Commission for Human Rights

Arab and Muslim attempts to single out Israel for criticism had prompted the United States to walk out of the first U.N. summit on racism, in South Africa in 2001.

Although the declaration prepared for the follow-up conference does not refer explicitly to Israel or the Middle East, its first paragraph "reaffirms" a text adopted at the 2001 meeting which includes six paragraphs on those sensitive issues.

U.S. President Barack Obama, the first African-American leader of the United States, said on Saturday that Washington wanted a "clean start" to engage with the United Nations on the issues to be tackled at the meeting.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the conference participants on Monday to do all they could to ensure the declaration is adopted at week's end.

"This was necessary," she said, "to restore confidence in the United Nations as a forum to address frictions that can explode into xenophobic attacks, as occurred in her native South Africa last year when 62 foreigners were killed."

Migrant workers stage a rally against racism and discrimination

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, faulted boycotting states for "turning their backs" on victims of racism. It said the absence of the U.S. and other Western powers "strikes a blow at U.N. efforts to fight racism."

The U.S. Human Rights Network, an umbrella organization of 300 activist groups, decried Washington's decision to stay away from the summit, three months after Obama became the first African-American U.S. president.

Racism in Israel

Despite criticism of Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel as a racist state, human rights activists and groups have accused the 'only democracy' in the Middle East of racism against a sizeable portion of its population.

"Discrimination is regularly apparent in state resource allocations in every field, and Palestinian Arabs continue to be excluded from the centers of power and underrepresented in decision-making public institutions, and in the general public sphere,”Yousef Jabareen, law lecturer at Haifa University and director of the Nazareth-based Arab Center for Law told AlArabiya.net.

According to a 2008 report by the Haifa-based human rights group Moussawa, racial discrimination against Arab Israelis has become a norm manifested in the daily lives of non-Jewish Israelis.

It states that racism in Israel manifests on many levels and that Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the main source of increased racism in public opinion, with ideas like population exchange and racial segregation gaining currency amid growing paranoia over Israel's Jewish character.

Israel imposes discriminatory laws such as banning Arabic from all areas of the public sector in order to preserve the “Jewish character” of Israel although its official primary languages are Hebrew and Arabic. It continues to build illegal settlements despite international disapproval, demolishes Palestinian homes to establish Jewish neighborhoods in their stead, and constructs the Apartheid Wall which in 2004 the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled was illegal.

“Anywhere you go in Israel you will not find Arabs represented or integrated. And this holds for all aspects of life, from basic representation on the street to that of public institutions,” Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Advocacy Center, told AlArabiya.net.

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