The Durban Review Conference (“Durban II”) has kicked off with a bang and is already proving to be the farce it was expected to become when it was first planned.
Before Durban II even started, a number of Western countries, including Israel, Australia, Canada, the United States, Italy, Holland, New Zealand, Poland and Germany, declined to attend. Britain and France sent small delegations, perhaps in the belief that by being there they were able to have an influence.
While the boycott was welcomed by many, today’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial asserted that it would have been “far better for Western and Israeli diplomats to have gritted their teeth” and “argued against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying views if repeated” (see more). Is he kidding? Did he miss the irony of Ahmedinejad opening up a conference about combating racism?
The SMH editorial was written before the Iranian’s performance at Durban II and the author must be feeling somewhat embarrassed today after Ahmedinejad took to the podium to deliver the keynote address. A few minutes of his insidious invective was enough to convince the diplomatic leaders from twenty-three different nations, including the European Union and Jordan to walk out after he labeled Israel the “most cruel and racism regime” (see video of delegates walking out here).
Here is a small selection of articles available online and which cover the incident:
Iranian calls Israel racist at meeting in Geneva – NY Times
Iranian president triggers racism conference walkout – online, The Age
Foreign leaders blast Ahmedinejad speech – Haaretz
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad sparks racism meet walk out – The Australian.
In an Op-Ed in today’s Age, John Langmore argued that all heads of state are entitled to speak at the opening plenary session but this is really something of a moot point given that no other heads of state are attending. In any event, should it have come to the point where it was necessary to give despots like Ahmedinejad the benefit of the doubt?
The shame of it all was that there many delegates left in the hall after the walk out and some of them applauded the Iranian President. The shame of it all was that when Durban II was put to its first test, the Libyan chair censured debate on human rights abuses in Libya. The shame of it is that with the Age running a poll right asking the question: “Was President Ahmedinejad’s attack on Israel appropriate?” currently 44% have voted “Yes”. The shame of it all was that the SMH found it necessary to fall back on the hoary old claim of an Israeli/Jewish lobby – the very canard that has become the lifeblood of anti Jewish sentiment through the ages.
But the real shame of it all was brought home to me when I returned from last night’s emotional Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day) commemoration in Melbourne which I attended with my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Reading about the events that were unfolding in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations, I was reminded that the UN was set up after the atrocities of the Holocaust.
So I didn’t need the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald to remind me of mankind’s folly in accepting a keynote speaker at a conference on racism telling delegates that there never was a Holocaust when I had spent the previous evening sitting at the side of one of its victims. And how many more such victims of racism will there be across the face of the earth because this horrible conference is taking place?
Not surprisingly, one of the more ridiculous statements I read came from a UN official. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on countries to remain engaged in the talks of the conference. She claimed, “The best riposte to this type of event is to reply, to correct, and not to walk away; not to withdraw and boycott the conference. If that happens, who is going to provide a rational response to what has been said?” Ms. Pillay, I am not sure who will provide a rational response to this insanity but I am reasonably certain that it will not be you or any of your other colleagues at the UN.
Pillay also declared, “Generally, I feel that if you focus on this one intervention you would be doing a great disservice to the outcome of this conference and a great disservice to the expectations of victims of racism (see more).” Pillay is obviously trying to push the UN’s own agenda here – after all, they do no want this conference to turn into an international joke – but sadly, they are providing an even greater disservice to the millions of victims of racism, xenophobia and intolerance to use their plight as a platform for the vilification of one nation.
Perhaps Israeli President Shimon Peres put it best in his address at the State ceremony when he said, “Nazism was defeated but anti-Semitism is still alive. The gas has evaporated but the poison remains… The conference that opened in Geneva today is the acceptance of racism, not the fight against it. And its key speaker, Ahmadinejad, who calls for the extermination of Israel and who denies the Holocaust, it’s shameful, a disgrace” (see more).
Then there was the Swiss government, which already drew criticism for President Hans-Rudolf Merz’s meeting with Ahmedinejad when he arrived in Geneva. The incident led to Israel recalling its ambassador from Switzerland. In a radio interview, Merz defended the meeting declaring, “Switzerland is neutral and not part of any alliance” (see more). It is one thing to declare that your country is not aligned to any particular political bloc, but surely this does not mean that you cannot see right from wrong?
Switzerland – a land that callously profited from its unique position of neutrality at the expense of Jewish lives during World War II, now pandering to the world’s most infamous Holocaust denier and a man who would annihilate another six million Jews if he only had the opportunity.
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria