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      Israel to Swiss: 'Don't Shake Ahmadinejad's Hand' at Durban II

      Israel is calling on Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz not to shake the hand of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier.
      By Hana Levi Julian
      First Publish: 4/19/2009, 8:53 AM / Last Update: 4/19/2009, 3:23 PM

      Israel News Photo: (file)

      Israel is calling on Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz not to shake the hand of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at this week’s Durban II racism conference slated to be held in Geneva.

      The Foreign Ministry stated that no leader with any self-respect would shake the hand of a Holocaust denier who encourages terrorism and negates the existence of the State of Israel.

      Jerusalem also called on the Swiss president to cancel a planned meeting on Sunday with the Iranian leader, who has often called for Israel’s destruction.

      Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor slammed Ahmadinejad as "the representative of a regime which consistently breaches human rights, which assassinates opponents and persecutes minority groups, which exports hatreds and terrorism throughout the MIddle East." 

      To dignify such a regime with a handshake, he said, "would only reinforce the Ayatollah’s stance and send the wrong message to all those in the Middle East and in the rest of the world who risk their lives defending the cause of human rights."

      Moreover, he noted, the meeting was ironically being held on a day in which thousands of Jews were marching toward the scene of their ancestors' slaughter in Europe, the Nazi death camps.

      "Of course it wasn’t planned but it so happens today is the March of the Living and tomorrow is the eve of Holocaust Day here so to have a notoroious Holocaust denier be greeted officially by the president of a democratic country is particularly painful and ironic.

      "We know that the intentions of President Merz are commendable," he added. "He thinks that he will be able to convince the Iranian president to retract. But it takes an incredible dose of innocence and inexperience to believe that someone so intoxicated with hatred and manipulative scheming such as Ahmadinejad will take heed of the preaching of the peace-loving Swiss president."

      The annual March of the Living, a pilgrimage by hundreds of Jews from around the world who visit the site of the Nazi death camps where six million Jews were murdered, is set for Sunday.

      The European Union has yet to decide whether it will participate in the conference, set to begin on Monday.

      On Monday evening, the State of Israel begins its annual observance of Holocaut Memorial Day when it honors the memories of those who were slaughtered by the Nazis before and during World War II. The national day of observance lasts until Tuesday night.

      Australia Joins Boycott
      The Australian government also has decided not to attend the United Nations  conference on racism.

      Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says he has decided not to go to the conference because he is concerned it will again be used to air offensive views, such as Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction.

      "Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views," Smith said in a statement. "Of additional concern are the suggestions of some delegations in the Durban process to limit the universal right to free speech." Canada, Israel, Italy and the United States have already indicated they will not participate.

      The United States announced on Saturday night that it had made its final decision “with regret” not to attend the gathering because the final draft of its document still appears to single out Israel and stifle free speech.

      State Department spokesman Robert Wood emphasized that America “is profoundly committed to ending racism and racial discrimination.” He added that the U.S. “will work with all people and nations to build greater resolve and enduring political will to halt racism and discrimination wherever it occurs.”

      The decision was applauded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which said in a statement it was “the right thing to do and underscores America’s unstinting commitment to combating intolerance and racism in all its forms and in all its settings.”

      The Congressional Black Caucus, led by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D), however, was deeply disturbed by the move, calling it a “missed opportunity, plain and simple.”