Scandal around Ahmadinejad’s speech in Geneva

Press review – week from April 20 to 24, 2009

The conference against racism in Durban in 2001 had led to divisions between the participants on issues such as the assimilation of Zionism with racism desired by the Arab countries, the question of gender equality and the rights of homosexuals among other matters. Since then, the United Nations had worked for such a failure not to happen again. However, the Durban II conference in Geneva this week has seen history repeating itself with the scandal of the provocations of the Iranian President from the UN rostrum who called Israel a “racist State”.
A conference boycotted even before its own launching

Even before the launching of the conference, Australia, Germany, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands had joined the United States and Israel in their decision not to go to Geneva, said Le Figaro. Barack Obama had even considered the summit as « hypocritical » and « counter-productive » before its start, fearing that it would give the opportunity for the Iranian leader to get a platform to attack Israel. Indeed, in 2001 in South Africa, the United States and Israel had left the conference in Durban after the Arab states had equated Zionism with racism.


In Europe

European reactions were primarily characterized by the unconditional rejection of what the Iranian leader said concerning the Holocaust and the characterization of Israel as a racist State and equating Zionism with racism. In his editorial « Ahmadinejd ad nauseam » published in La Libre Belgique, Gérald Papy looked back on this accusation. He explains that « Zionism is not a racist ideology » because if Israel is indeed a “State for Jews” it does not exclude other citizens. He also highlights that Israel is not a racist State either because in its declaration of independence, equality among all Jews and non-Jews is proclaimed. G. Papy recognizes that such principles do not prevent racism Israel. The journalist recalls that on June 12th, the Iranian voters will elect their new president and he expresses his concerned seeing that the reformers are not considered as potential winners for the moment.

Nevertheless, Alain Gresh gives a much more critical analysis of the Western position in theMonde diplomatique’s blog, « Nouvelles d’Orient« . Indeed, in his article, he denounces a Western campaign of « disinformation and fantasies » concerning the treatment of the intervention of Ahmadinejad, whose positions are well-known and whose attitude was more than predictable. He recalls, for example, that in his speech, « there were no denials of the Holocaust ». Besides, Alain Gresh quotes the Pan-Arab London daily Al-Quds al-Arabi that said before the launching of the conference that « Israel has already won the battle without having taken part and, as usual, the Arabs lost, despite their participation » as the final resolution of Durban II is silent on Israel, the Gaza crimes and the oppression of Palestinians, after pressure from the United States and Europe on the Palestinian delegation.

In Israel

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reports that the Israeli MP Silvan Shalom has said during his trip to Poland for the Day of the Remembrance of the Holocaust that Iran was trying to repeat the treatment Nazi Germany had given the Jews. Ahmadinejad’s speech took place while the Hebrew State was commemorating the Holocaust.

Furthermore, Israel has recalled its ambassador to Bern since the Swiss president is the first Western head of State to have formally invited the Iranian President Ahmadinejad, according to Hurriyet. Officially, Israel has recalled its ambassador « for consultations » showing its discontent following Ahmadinejad’s participation in Durban II in Geneva while the leader is known for his denial of the Holocaust.

Focusing on other prospects, the Israeli daily Haaretz sees in this case the lack of investment of Israel in public relations since the Hebrew State never tries to explain to public opinions its position and the reason of its choices.

In the Arab world

On the Arab side, the views are more diversified. The Algerian daily El Watan, in its editorial entitled « behind one type of racism lies another type of racism » believes it is not surprising to have witnessed « the noisy and spontaneous mobilization » of countries that have turned a blind eye on « the heinous crimes committed by Israelis in Gaza « to “scuttle the UN conference on racism”. For the editorialist, the Western states are « tireless advocates of Israel » and waving « the bogy of anti-Semitism is simply hypocrisy ». According to him, « taking the defense of Israel, countries (Western) try to create a smoke screen on the phenomenon of racism (…) since the right of minorities is also a lure in the so-called free world. » Finally he regrets that the Arab countries, once allies of the Palestinian resistance are not supportive anymore and believes that this is « the price of new strategic alliances forged by most Arab regimes with the United States. »

Somewhat paradoxically, the Middle Eastern press and especially the Palestinian press adopt a very different tone and reject the Iranian intervention as a support to the Palestinian cause.

Meanwhile, the Palestine Monitor questions the position of the Iranian leader as a defender of the Palestinian cause. « Is this man, widely recognized as an extremist, who will promote discourse on the Palestinian cause?” asks the reporter of the Palestine Monitor, recalling that Ahmadinejad has no credibility in the field of human rights. The information site stresses that the Iranian support for the Palestinian cause has not shown any concrete results. In terms of politics and diplomacy, Iran has certainly done no good to Palestine and has even helpedto internal divisions. For the Palestine Monitor, the Iranian president does not care about the Palestinian cause but uses it for populist reasons and to justify his policy. Finally, the journalist suggests that next time, a Palestinian himself could be speaking on the behalf of Palestine and maybe successfully keep the public in the room.

According to Asharq al Awsat, Ahmadinejad addressed to the Arab world and not to the international community. However, the journalist questions the need to make speeches while the Palestinian cause now needs action. Besides, he highlights that Iran has done nothing lately to support Palestine. On the other hand, the Iranian leader’s speech may be a way to create a smoke screen on the actions he is launching now in his own country and the international press should detach itself from his speech in Geneva to follow what is going on in Iran.  Indeed, the case of the young Iranian-American sentenced to 8 years in prison for spying activities is highly controversial and the Swiss president of the meeting with his Iranian counterpart is also a matter the press should pay more attention to.

A humiliation for the UN?

For Le Figaro, Ban Ki-moon « has missed his bet. » The conference aimed at bringing together the States on common values while the opposite happened and we may think a posteriori that the Western countries which had previously refused to join the conference had been right.

Hurriyet said that the Secretary General of the United Nations had condemned the boycott of the conference and was deeply disappointed, regretting that some « States that should help building a path for a better future were not there. »

However, in La Libre Belgique, Bernard Kouchner, the French minister of Foreign Affairs, said that « Durban II is not a failure » if we consider the text that has been finally adopted, where the themes of anti-Semitism, discrimination on people, freedom of expression, genocide, the memory of the Holocaust, women’s rights, trafficking of human beings, people with HIV and people with disabilities have been addressed.

The draft of the final declaration was adopted on Tuesday afternoon instead of Friday, reports Le Figaro. The diplomats would have preferred to accelerate the adoption process in case other States decide to leave the conference before the end. This text has been cleared off of conflict topics. It does not deal with Israel neither on the issue of defamation of religions that Westerners had identified as « red lines ». The passage on the memory of the Holocaust has been upheld, against the advice of Iran. In addition, the text reaffirms the 2001 Declaration and Action program that the United States had refused to adopt because of paragraphs dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is a setback for the UN and its secretary general, despite the adoption of the text. Besides, the presence of Ahmadinejad could deter some Western countries to continue to pay for conferences that are used as platforms for the provocations of certain leaders. However, it was said that this event would not affect the planned rapprochement between Iran and the United States.