A confrontation began brewing in Geneva Monday, where the United Nations-sponsored conference on anti-racism is to begin in the afternoon with a speech by "guest of honor" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a harsh and exceptional step, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned its Ambassador to Switzerland, Ilan Elgar to return home for consultations after Ahmadinejad met with Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz.
Israel also sent a delegation to Durban II to protest instead of participate in the sequel conference to Durban I, which in 2001 focused anger and condemnation on Israel to the point that the United States walked out. This time around, the U.S. and several Western nations have boycotted the conference ahead of time.
Israeli delegates are planning to arrange demonstrations against Durban II and during Ahmadinejad”s speech Monday afternoon, with information about human rights violations in Iran. They will be backed by Elie Wiesel, representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Holocaust Center, and Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz a champion of civil rights and a strong supporter of Israel.
Swiss police are on high alert for problems and on Sunday whisked away Dershowitz, who had declared his intention to engage Ahmadinejad in a debate on his views of the Holocaust and Israel. Natan Sharansky, who is expected to be nominated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to head the Jewish Agency, will be the keynote speaker in a protest session scheduled on Wednesday, entitled “Israel, Democracy, and the Search for Peace."
President Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and has several times said that Israel must be wiped off the map. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is attending the conference and said no one should deny the Holocaust. He met with Ahmadinejad early Monday afternoon.
The European Union is split, with Italy, Holland and Germany boycotting the conference and Britain attending with a low-level representation. France announced Monday morning it will attend but only “on condition” that Durban II does not turn into another anti-Israel platform. Australia, New Zealand and Canada also are boycotting the conference, and Poland announced at midday it will not attend.
The conference ostensibly is arranged to fight racism, but Ahmadinejad was quoted by the Iranian government radio as saying, “The Zionist ideology and regime are the flag bearers of racism."
Durban II, whether by coincidence or by intention, begins on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Durban II is “upside down” and explained, “How could it be that the Iranian president is the guest of honor at a conference for racism?" Prime Minister Netanyahu commented, “The guest of honor at the conference is a racist and denies the Holocaust. He doesn’t deny his intention to wipe Israel off the map.”
President Shimon Peres stated, “I feel deeply hurt and ashamed that on such a day, there is the opening of a racist conference in Geneva, and the main speaker is who? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A man that calls to wipe Israel off of the map. A man who denies the Holocaust. There must be a limit, even to the neutrality of Switzerland."
Organizers of the conference toned down several policies that prompted objections by Western nations but retained resolutions that imply criticism of Israel. Muslim countries want a resolution that bans all criticism of Islam, which they claim preclude the freedom of speech.