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EU delegates walk out on Ahmadinejad speech

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-04-21

Several EU delegates walked out of a United Nations conference on racism when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a verbal assault on Israel. The meeting had already been boycotted by the US and some of its allies.

European Union representatives walked out of the ‘Durban II’ UN racism conference, which opened Monday in Geneva, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel’s government “racist”.

"Following World War II they [Israeli governments] resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," Ahmadinejad told the conference, on the day Jewish communities around the world commemorate the Holocaust, in which up to six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

"And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine," he added.

His speech got a mixed reception from delegates at the conference. “You could hear both hisses and applauds,” FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Geneva, Christophe Robeet, said. “This is the worst case scenario for a conference that was supposed to be about racism and discrimination but which today sunk into a deep political crisis.”
 
Making ‘a point’

Jean-Baptiste Mattei, the French ambassador to the UN, was among the delegates who walked out of the conference.

“We had very strict instructions to ensure that the Conference wouldn’t turn into a platform for anti-Israeli feelings,” Mattei told FRANCE 24. “As soon as Ahmadinejad mentioned Israel and the Jewish people under the terms you’re already familiar with, we collectively decided to leave the room to make a point.”    

“We’re ready to further contribute to the success of the conference,” Mattei added. “If someone has to go, it is Iran, not the EU.”

Michel Benami, the president of Israel’s ruling Likud party and an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he was ashamed “as a citizen of the world that such words would be uttered today just as they had been 64 years ago by Hitler himself.”

The US and Israel, as well as Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy and Germany, have boycotted the conference out of fear that it would serve as a platform for racist slurs against the Jewish state.

During the previous racism conference held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, both the US and Israel walked out of the summit to protest against attempts by some Arab states to liken Zionism to racism in the final declaration.

This time, the draft declaration mentions neither Israel nor the issue of religious defamation – two conditions set by Western countries. However, the document still refers to the importance of commemorating the Holocaust despite Iran’s opposition.

Date created : 2009-04-21