By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
PARIS, April 20 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad argued before a U.N. anti-racism conference Monday that Israel is a "paragon of racism" founded on "the pretext of Jewish sufferings" during World War II.
The comments, a hard-edged version of Ahmadinejad's often-repeated anti-Zionist views, prompted several dozen European diplomats to walk out of the opening session of the week-long Geneva meeting, which the Obama administration and eight other Western nations already were boycotting. In addition, a handful of pro-Israel demonstrators shouting "shame, shame" and "racist, racist" threw red clown noses at the podium and prevented Ahmadinejad from entering a room where he was to hold a news conference.
In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Ahmadinejad's "hateful rhetoric" was "one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determine that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do."
The uproar seemed to douse any hopes that the gathering would prove more successful than the first U.N. anti-racism conference, in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. That meeting also became a forum for vitriolic condemnation of Israel.
Ahmadinejad, who just a week ago had suggested that Iran was ready for a new relationship with the United States, blamed America and its allies for a long list of ills, including the world economic crisis. He suggested that the Western model of economic liberalism was exhausted and that Western leaders, in their efforts to contain the crisis, "are simply thinking about maintaining power and wealth."
Turning to Israel, he started by asking why the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have so much power over other nations. Although such powerful countries condemn racism in words, he said, by their deeds they "ridicule and violate all laws and humanitarian values."
"Following World War II," he continued, according to an official English-language text of his remarks, "they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question" of the Holocaust.
"They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine," he said, "and in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists, in Palestine."
Ahmadinejad said Zionist supporters enjoy undue influence over Western governments, imposing "their domination to the extent that nothing can be done against their will," and he suggested that the only solution is to defeat them.
"So long as Zionist domination continues, many countries, governments and nations will never be able to enjoy freedom, independence and security," he said. "As long as they are at the helm of power, justice will never prevail in the world and human dignity will continue to be offended and trampled upon. It is time the ideal of Zionism, which is the paragon of racism, be broken."
British and French diplomats, whose governments had threatened a walkout if they heard anti-Semitic or anti-Israel remarks, left the room. Peter Gooderham, the British ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called Ahmadinejad's remarks "outrageous" and "anti-Semitic," according to news reports.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he deplored "the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite," which was "the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve."
Israel, preparing to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day starting at sundown Monday, derided the U.N. gathering for giving Ahmadinejad a forum. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called him "a racist and a Holocaust denier who doesn't conceal his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth."