The United Nations Durban II anti-racism conference in Geneva this week hit snags early on due to an anti-Israel tirade by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the subsequent walk-out of Western envoys in protest, Haaretz reports.
And prior to Ahmadinejad's speech, Western envoys directed criticism towards Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz for holding a meeting with the Iranian president, according to the Jerusalem Post. During this meeting, ardent Israel-defender Alan Dershowitz had to be escorted away by federal agents when he allegedly tried to cause a scene and challenge Ahmadinejad to a debate on the Iranian president's past incendiary Holocaust statements. From Haaretz:
The diplomats rose from their chairs and walked out of the hall in Geneva as Ahmadinejad launched a tirade against the Israeli government. The Iranian leader also blasted the United States for its invasion of Iraq. Earlier Monday, federal agents in Geneva on Sunday escorted Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz away from the Geneva hotel where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz were meeting, after he declared plans to challenge the Iranian leader about his views on the Holocaust and Israel.
Israel has sent a delegation to Geneva to publicly protest Durban II, a summit many Western countries fear will be used as a forum to criticize Israel.
As part of its publicity campaign, the Israelis will organize demonstrations during the speech, and will distribute materials on human rights violations in Iran - with particular emphasis on public executions and violence against women.
As expected, the conference is targeted by protesters of all stripes, many of whom are directing their obloquy specifically towards Ahmadinejad. The Jerusalem Post reports on Twitter that Ahmadinejad was also accosted Monday by a heckler wearing a clown wig during the same speech that drove Western envoys to walk out. The heckler accused Ahmadinejad of racism while Ahmadinejad simultaneously accused the Israeli government of racism, indicating that everyone in Geneva is at least sticking to the anti-racism conference's central topic.
An excerpt from Ahmadinejad's speech, via Jerusalem Post:
"As was the case after World War II, armies occupied other territories and people were transferred from territories. In reality, under the pretext of compensating for the evil done in the name of xenophobia, they in fact set up the most violent xenophobes, in Palestine."
"The Security Council made it possible for that illegitimate government to be set up. For 60 years, this government was supported by the world. Many Western countries say they are fighting racism; but in fact support it with occupation, bombings and crimes committed in Gaza. These countries support the criminals."
Following the walk-out, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office issued a statement Monday condemning the speech as an "intolerable appeal for racist hatred" and calling for "an extremely firm reaction by the European Union", Earth Times reports.
The West's protests, walk-outs and boycott of the conference are drawing criticism from United Nations officials, most notably from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. According to Al-Jazeera:
Earlier, Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nation's secretary general, criticised Western nations for boycotting a racism conference in Switzerland, saying he was "profoundly disappointed".
The United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, have said they will not attend the summit because of fears Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, may use it to propagate anti-Semitic views.
Washington has also said believes a draft text to be discussed at the conference is overly critical of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.
UPDATE, 2:20 pm EST 4/20:
Both Israel and the United States have issued statements condemning Ahmadinejad's Monday Durban II speech; however the two reactions split in their tone, with the US showing caution so as not to preclude future dealings with Iran, thus treating the speech as an isolate event rather a big-picture game-changer. From the AFP:
"We call on the Iranian leadership to show much more measured, moderate, honest and constructive rhetoric when dealing with issues in the region and not this type of vile, hateful, inciteful speech that we all saw in the Ahmadinejad spectacle of this morning," said US Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolff.
And, via Huffington Post's Sam Stein, Obama administration spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday that Ahmadinejad's speech only reaffirms further the administration's decision to forgo participation in the conference.
Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu employed characteristically confrontational language, while speaking at a Holocaust memorial ceremony. From the AP:
Speaking at the ceremony marking Israel's annual memorial day for the 6 million Jews killed by Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, Netanyahu also described a U.N. anti-racism conference under way in Geneva as an anti-Israel event.
The hawkish prime minister, who took office about three weeks ago, criticized the president of Switzerland for meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference. Netanyahu called Ahmadinejad a Holocaust denier who wants to perpetrate another massacre of Jews.
"We will not allow the Holocaust deniers to carry out another Holocaust against the Jewish people. This is the supreme duty of the state of Israel. This is my supreme duty as prime minister of Israel," Netanyahu said.
UPDATE, 2:15 pm EST 4/20:
The Jerusalem Post is reporting the identities of the clown-wigged hecklers who interrupted Ahmadinejad's speech with cries of "racism". The three men -- Rafael Haddad, Jonathan Hayoun and Jeremy Cohen -- are Jewish French students from. From the Jerusalem Post:
They positioned themselves at opposite ends of the hall when Ahmadinejad took the stage, and as he uttered his first words whipped out the clown wigs from their pockets and yelled 'racist' at the Iranian president.
The students said they wore clown outfits in order to "show that this speech and the entire conference is a circus." One of the students expressed satisfaction that EU delegates left the conference once Ahmadinejad's speech turned to focus on Israel.
UPDATE, 2:08 pm EST 4/20:
The AP has a useful breakdown of which countries are boycotting the Durban II conference versus which are in attendance but walked out during Ahmadinejad's Monday speech.
Boycotted altogether: Germany, Australia, Canada, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States
Walked out: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic (has left the conference for good), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, , Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, St. Kitts and Nevis
UPDATE, 11:50 am EST 4/20:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is now condemning Ahmadinejad for his bombastic speech, the AP reports. Ban, speaking for the United Nations, described the speech as having no other apparent purpose but "to accuse, divide and even incite", thus detracting entirely from the entire purpose of the conference.