I was at Ahmadinejād’s speech yesterday, and I have the crappy photos from the media area to prove it. It was dramatic, to say the least. Counter-protesters yelled (and were removed) throughout; applause lines invariably left half the room silent; there was obviously over exuberant applause from the Iranian delegates which made you wonder, and at a dramatic but expected moment at the beginning, the European delegates walked out.
I’ll quote from Human Rights Watch’s statement and the NYT, because, with one major exception regarding the Times, they roughly match my response to the speech. But I’ll add that somewhere in the middle of his talk, I suddenly felt anxiety coursing through my body and actually thought, “I wonder if this is how wars get started?” It was just a feeling, and may have no basis in reality, but it should be absolutely clear that- at times soaring rhetoric aside- this man has absolutely no interest in authentic peace and justice. And I do not trust either my own government or Israel to not start bombing.
Also, in those 45 or so minutes, he made absolute certain that all of the important work being done here by a range of NGOs working on dozens of issues like indigenous rights, reparations, trafficking and more, would be rendered completely invisible. He handed over to the pro-Israeli-occupation groups all they needed to make their point, that Durban II is just an Israel-hate fest. Of course, they’ve been working overtime to do that using other methods. But now they can all go home. He did their work for them.
Human Rights Watch said yesterday:
Governments attending a UN racism conference used by Iran’s president to give a hate-filled speech should respond by staying to ensure that the conference agrees on a strong anti-racism message, Human Rights Watch said today.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a speech at the Geneva conference to question the Holocaust, singling out Israel and Zionism as embodying modern racism, prompting numerous Western governments to walk out of the conference hall.
“Ahmadinejad’s speech contradicted the spirit and purpose of the conference, which is to defeat the scourge of racism,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The best response to Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory rhetoric is to stay in Geneva and rebut it.”
Human Rights Watch urged the European Union member states and other delegations that walked out during the Ahmadinejad speech to return to the chamber and work together to adopt the draft declaration against racism. As the Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, said in reference to the Iranian president’s speech: “Norway will not accept that the odd man out hijacks the collective efforts of the many.”
The review conference, intended to follow up on the 2001 Durban racism conference and push for UN action to end racism, was earlier undermined by the refusal of the United States to participate, which prompted walkouts by Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland.
During his speech, Ahmadinejad told the conference that: “Following World War II they [‘powerful countries'] resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering and the ambiguous and dubious question of holocaust.”
The New York Times said:
The fear all along has been that the United Nations conference on racism would be manipulated into yet another forum for demonizing Israel. All too predictably, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who has called the Holocaust a myth and has advocated Israel’s destruction — did just that.
In an ugly speech on Monday that served to divide and incite rather than find constructive solutions to racism, Mr. Ahmadinejad said the formation of the state of Israel left “an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering” in order “to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine.”
We commend France and other European nations for walking out in protest.
There are legitimate questions to be raised about Israel’s handling of the Gaza war, which had a disturbingly high number of civilian casualties. The Israeli military last month investigated allegations of abuses made by Israel’s own soldiers and quickly concluded that crucial data were based on “hearsay.” We agree with the nine Israeli human rights groups that have called for an independent inquiry. A spotlight also must be focused on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Human Rights Watch said in a new report that Hamas has been killing and maiming political opponents.
The last United Nations conference on racism — in 2001 — deteriorated into an Israel-bashing spectacle. Israel was the only country singled out in the final conference communiqué. Many participants, including the Russians, worked hard to try to ensure that this year’s meeting would be different. While there have been improvements in the communiqué, as now written, it would affirm the conclusions of the last one, implicitly still singling out Israel.
The United Nations conference can never have credibility, or value, if it is used to attack one country — Israel — especially when so many other countries have truly abysmal human rights records, including China, Sudan and Iran.
I’ve repeatedly quoted the statements from Durban I that references Israel and the Middle East. All 6 benign paragraphs. They should absolutely stay in and should be defended. Neither should they be allowed to dwarf the good work on so many other issues. If indeed Israel was singled out in that document, and I’ll let you read the 61 pages and tell me, then the Times and others should demand the inclusion of other countries, not the exclusion of Israel. That should be the strategy of human rights activists, and the UN.
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