The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended the conference to condemn the Israeli government’s brutal and repressive policy against the Palestinians. The European delegates walked out when he called the government of Israel “racist,” but the Latin Americans stayed. The United States and eight other countries boycotted the event.
The Israeli government’s stance against the Palestinian people, as well as unconditional support for the Israeli government given by not only the US but also some European governments, has been the main point of controversies this Monday at the United Nations’ World Conference against Racism, which is being held in Geneva, Switzerland.
Even before the beginning of the conference, the governments of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Holland, Italy, Poland, and Israel already announced their boycott of the conference, thinking that it could serve as a tribunal against Israel. Israel recalled its ambassador from Switzerland, due to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the country and the planned meeting between him and the Swiss head of state Hans-Rudolf Merz.
Israel Is Racist
But the Iranian president was very forceful this Monday in denouncing the existence of a “racist government” in Israel during his speech at the conference. The Iranian leader said that “the worst racists have been brought to Palestine,” attacking the United States for defending “the crimes of Zionism.” Ahmadinejad equally castigated the “US attack against Iraq” and “the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.” “Zionism personifies racism,” Ahmadinejad concluded.
Criticisms of Israel are rooted in this nation’s government’s treatment of the Palestinian people. In addition to killing over 1,400 people in its recent invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel has for years maintained a discriminatory policy, often characterized as “Apartheid,” against the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, subjecting them to lives confined by the wall, treating them like second-rank citizens through its sprawling legal apparatus, and displacing them by force from their own homes.
Nevertheless, the United States has become the fiercest defender of Israel and has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to prevent sanctions against the Israeli government. Ahmadinejad criticized the stance of the Security Council, saying that it has always “quietly accepted the crimes of Israel, such as the recent bombings of civilians in Gaza.” He also said that the international intervention in Afghanistan has brought neither peace nor prosperity to this country and that the US invasion of Iraq has “killed and injured a million people” and caused millions of damages to the economy of this country.
Europeans Walk Out, Latin Americans Stay
European delegates walk out, against the words of the Iranian president
Arab delegates support the president of Iran
Pro-Israel activists escorted out
Representatives of the European Union walked out in protest against Ahmadinejad’s words during his speech, but numerous delegates applauded the very same words. The Latin American delegates stayed and listened to the Iranian president’s speech. “We have no instruction to boycott the conference,” a South American ambassador said to AFP, about the decision of nine countries not to attend the conference.
Ahmadinejad’s speech was interrupted by activists of a French organization of pro-Israeli students, who, dressed as clowns, tried to call him “racist,” but they were quickly arrested and expelled from the auditorium by UN security guards.
103 states out of 192 member states of the United Nations participated in the conference, including all the Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as some 2,000 NGO activists, for the purpose of laying the foundations for an international plan to strengthen the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other related forms of intolerance.
The European Union — except Italy, Holland, Poland, and Germany, which ruled out their attendance — decided to participate in the conference at the last minute yesterday, without, however, accepting what they call “abuses.” For the EU, there exist certain “red lines” that cannot be violated, and calling the state of Israel racist is one of them. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned this morning that the European Union had made a pact not to permit any “slip” or “provocation,” particularly from Ahmadinejad.
Fear due to the Results of Durban 1 in 2001
Washington announced this Saturday that it was going to boycott the conference due to its concerns about a declaration that reaffirmed the language adopted at the last major UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. On that occasion, the United States and Israel quit the conference when the Arab states sought to define Zionism as racism.
Though that proposition was not included in the final declaration and program of action of the 2001 conference, the Israeli state was criticized by a statement that said: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.”
To overcome the polemic over the 2001 Durban conference, the conference this year has been organized to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day dedicated in Israel to remembering the murder of Jews by the German Nazi regime.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “profoundly regretted” nine countries’ sabotage of the World Conference against Racism as well as politics overshadowing discrimination. “I profoundly regret that some (countries) have decided to stand aside (from the process),” said the secretary general, adding, “I’m profoundly disappointed.”
“We dream of moving in a new direction, yet too many of us cling to the past. We speak of finding a new unity, as the times demand. Yet we remain weak and divided and stuck in old ways. We speak of tolerance and mutual respect, but we point fingers and deliver many of the same accusations today that we did years if not decades ago,” said the secretary general.
Text of the Declaration
The text that serves as basis for the official declaration, which will be approved during the conference, does not mention the concept of “defamation of religions” that some Muslim countries advanced. It reaffirms the conclusions of the last conference, held in Durban in 2001, which encourage a negotiated political solution for the Middle East conflict, with mutual recognition of two states, Israel and Palestine.
The text in turn condemns, in a generic fashion, foreign occupation as one of the causes that promote racism, commemorates victims of slavery and colonialism, and recalls the obligations of the governments to cooperate with tribunals that investigate genocide.
“We managed to have the text include a warning against the criminalization of migrants, who are being hit hard by some European Union directives which reserve the prerogative of jailing undocumented immigrants for 180 days before expelling them and punish those who give them work,” a Latin American diplomat who negotiated the draft statement told AFP.
“We also made the declaration reiterate the human rights that protect the indigenous peoples who are maltreated in many parts of the world, particularly in Latin America,” said another Latin American diplomat.
“The document is very balanced and provides a concrete framework for action in a global campaign for justice for victims of racism in the world,” said Ban, making clear that he recognizes “the flexibility as well as efforts of the delegations to find a common framework despite considerable difficulties.”
The article “Israel fue denunciada con contundencia en la Conferencia de la ONU contra el Racismo” was published by YVKE Mundial on 20 April 2009. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).