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Geneva: The Three Ring Spectacle By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In what was the most telling sign of yesterday's United Nations conference on racism held in Geneva, two men dressed as clowns disrupted anti-Semitic comments by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of whom threw a rubber nose at the speaker.

What followed was a circus. Ahmadinejad continued his remarks, in which he denounced Israel as “the most cruel and repressive, racist regime.” In the middle of his speech, representatives of at least 30 nations walked out as Ahmadinejad silently watched.

In addition to the walk-out, many world leaders spoke out in fervor against the remarks. Said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon:

I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve.

The State Department criticized Ahmadinejad’s remarks, but insisted that it would continue to pursue engagement with Iran, following President Barack Obama’s pledge of attempting to “talk” to Tehran.

Others have dismissed Ahmadinejad’s remarks as nothing more than fodder for his presidential campaign. Said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, “He is in mid-electoral campaign, he puts on his show and gets what he wants when chaos breaks out in the room.”

However, despite the mass protest, not everyone left the room. And, as Ahmadinejad finished, he was greeted with warm applause.

But while it is commendable that many of those in attendance stood and defiantly walked out of the meeting, one question remains: Why was it allowed to continue?

Nearly every representative returned to the conference after Ahmadinejad’s comments. But by then, it became clear that the meeting was a complete farce. The only story emanating from the conference was to come from Ahmadinejad’s speech; afterwards, it became clear that anything else at the summit, no matter how positive, would receive any publicity.

The only nation to pull out was the Czech Republic, whose Foreign Ministry offered a statement:

We cannot allow, through our presence, the legitimisation of absolutely unacceptable anti-Israeli attacks. The Czech delegation will not return to the conference at all, as a consequence to Ahmadinejad's speech.

In addition, while those who walked out should be commended, another question remains: Why even attend in the first place?

The meeting was already boycotted by the United States and Israel, as well as Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Poland. U.S. officials chose to pull out due to language in the human rights commission’s prepared document, which still singles out Israel in its text.

In the eight years since Durban, Arab countries have not renounced anti-Israel policies. And the United Nations has frequently served as a conduit for condemnations of both America and Israel. Last April, Professor Richard Falk, used by the UN to “investigate” Israel’s relations with Palestine, once compared Israel to Nazis. Simply put, Israel’s enemies have used the international forum that is the United Stations to criticize Tel Aviv for its alleged “human rights abuses” while ignoring their own abuses back at home.

It’s not as if Ahmadinejad’s remarks were surprising. Delegates knew well in advance that he was going to speak at the meeting. Ahmadinjad uses every opportunity to promote hatred of Israel. To attend this event, knowing that Ahmadinijad was even invited to speak, despite the momentary walk-out, only gave the Iranian president a bigger stage.

If no one attended the meeting to start with, he would not have been heard. But now that he made his speech, followed by the theater of a walk-out, his remarks have made front page headlines around the world.

However, Ahmadinejad’s statement may have unintended consequences that may not bode well for his future. Al-Jazeera’s Iran correspondent said that the president may face strong criticisms in Tehran:

Ahmadinejad's words are being criticised in Iran, not just among the youth, but among the different political factions. This is the exact attitude he has been criticised for some time. Even among the conservatives they have said such remarks are totally uncalled for.

However, the Tehran Times, an English newspaper used as an Iranian propaganda tool, tried to spin the results of Ahmadinejad’s remarks in a positive direction. Said the Tehran Times:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received an ovation at the UN conference on racism in Geneva on Monday after proposing that the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council should be immediately abolished.

While Ahmadinejad may face a difficult time in his quest to hold on to Iran’s presidency, he has never had a bigger spotlight. The UN’s latest meeting delivered diplomacy at its worst.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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