Holland and Germany announced Sunday that they will boycott the ‘Durban 2’ conference in Geneva. The Dutch and Germans join Israel, the U.S., Canada, Australia and Italy in boycotting the United Nations event that will be opened on Monday with a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Caricature handed out at Durban 1 conference (from eyeontheun.org)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the countries boycotting the conference. “Israel thanks the countries that have already announced that they would avoid setting foot in the conference of hypocrisy that opens tomorrow in Geneva and calls on additional countries to follow suit,” Lieberman said Sunday afternoon.
Britain has announced, however, that a delegation headed by Peter Gooderham, British ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, would attend the ‘Durban 2’ conference.
"It's still our intention to attend," a British Foreign Office spokesman told The Telegraph. "We're watching how things develop."
Pope Benedict XVI had words of support Sunday for the conference. The pope made no mention of the boycott of the conference, but urged participating countries to join forces to eliminate intolerance and discrimination in the world.
Benedict said the conference, which ostensibly aims to fight racism and xenophobia, is an "important initiative because, even today, despite the lessons of history, such deplorable phenomena take place." Benedict told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square that "firm and concrete action is needed, at national and international levels, to prevent and eliminate every form of discrimination and intolerance."
Hitler's 120th birthday
The conference’s opening will coincide with the 120th birthday of Adolf Hitler, under whose leadership Germany and its allies starved, tortured and slaughtered 6 million Jewish men, women and children in cold blood. Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day will also begin on Monday evening.
Ahmadinejad has previously described the Holocaust as a myth and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map.” He is also believed to be developing nuclear weapons.
The U.N. meeting will purportedly review global efforts to fight racism since the first World Conference Against Racism was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. In the original Durban conference, some Arab countries tried to link Zionism to racism.
Holland: 'Grim and unacceptable'
Danny Ayalon, Israel Deputy Foreign Minister, predicted that "Durban II, like its predecessor, will go down in infamy and will massively deviate from its original purpose.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen announced Sunday that Holland would boycott the meeting after finding that draft UN statements were "grim" and "unacceptable".
"The anti-racism conference is too important to abuse for political goals and attacks on the West," Verhagen said. "The Netherlands will not be a part of it." Holland is concerned that some Muslim countries are using the event to restrict free speech by demanding the passing of laws that specificly protect the Islamic religion from criticism.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith issued a statement condemning Durban 2: "Regrettably,” he said, “we cannot be confident that the conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views."
World Jewish Congress spokesman Michael Thaidigsmann, said the WJC is “disappointed that Britain is going to attend when the US, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands have refused. It shows that people do not learn lessons."
Shimon Samuels, Director for International Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Europe, called on Britain to at least stand up and walk out when Ahmadinejad begins to speak, noting that “Ahmadinejad uses the language of Hitler.”
European Union diplomats met in a last-minute attempt to reach a common policy on the Geneva meeting but did not succeed.