This dispatch was sent to me by my friend Liora. Liora is part of the American Jewish Committee’s young professional delegation to the Durban Review Conference (DRC), a UN conference being held in Geneva from April 19 – 24 to review progress to cobat raciscm, racial intolerance, xenophobia and related intolerances since the orginal conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Unfortunately, the 2001 conference turned into an Antisemetic and anti-Israel forum, punctuated by an ugly NGO forum dominated by blatant Antisemetism. AJC and other Jewish organizations have sent delegates to Geneva as a voice to the media and conferenece participants that Antisemitism and singling out of Israel at the expenses of serious racial abuses around the world, such as Darfur and Zimbabwe, are unacceptable.
Greetings from Geneva! First I must address yesterday. What a day. I will focus on Ahmadinejad for this posting. Much to the dismay of the Western World and Jews particularly, Ahmedinejad was invited as a main guest speaker on the very first day of the Durban Review Conference. Yes, this is the same national leader who has consistently called the Holocaust a myth and called for Israel to be “Wiped off the map”. The UN could not have found a more appropriate speaker to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Durban Review Conference and the hijacking of important racism and intolerance issues at the expense of politics.
It was odd that in the face of such controversial preparations leading to the DRC, the pending and now finalized withdrawal of key countries such as the US, Germany, Canada, Poland, Australia, Italy, etc, the UN would choose to discredit the conference further through inviting Ahmadinejad to speak.
Needless to say, there was bit of a debate within our delegation about where we belonged during the infamous speech. Clearly, an element of curiosity led us to want to hear Ahmadinejad’s hateful words for ourselves and witness the UN reaction first hand. Nonetheless, we also felt that the last thing we wanted to do was give Ahmadinejad even more of an audience for his tirade and give weight to his ideas by listening live. My fellow delegate, Naomi, and I decided we would instead attend a rally organized outside the Palais de Nations protesting Ahmadinejad’s speech. However, walking around prior to the scheduled 3:14 speech without seeing any rally, we found out that the protest was going to happen afterwords. Outside the Palais de Nations we witnessed a loud caravan of police escorts leading Ahmadinejad to the Palais de Nations. Since the rally was not happening, we decided to go inside the building in hopes of speaking to media and explaining our position on Ahmadinejad’s invitation and the DRC in general.
Inside the Palais de Nations, our timing could not have been better. As we entered, we were quickly ushered along with a delegation of about 15 Iranians, including security, cameramen, and the President of Iran himself. Naomi and I clutched each others hands, not believing that 5 feet in front of us was Ahmadinejad, and we were now ad hoc members of his delegation! We continued walking as if we completely belonged with his group, even though I was sure two noticeably American girls attached to a delegation of formal Iranian men was slightly odd.
We followed the group until we got to the main hall, where we pulled aside an Iranian cameraman and offered to be interviewed. I gave a couple-minute statement about our view that the conference was being hijacked for political reasons instead of focusing on core racism issues. I discussed Israeli’s desire to live in peace alongside the Palestinians as well as our view that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denials and threats to destroy Israel makes him unfit to be a lead speaker at a conference addressing Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerances. Afterwords, the cameramen told us he was one of Ahmadinejad’s official filmmakers and was doing a documentary on Ahmadinejad’s visit to the DRC which would air on Channel 1 in Iran. I’m not quite sure I believe any of that, and am a little nervous about the usage of the film!
The craziness continued as a couple minutes later it looked like ‘our’ Iranian delegation was walking into the main floor of the Palais de Nations. We quickly took our place in the delegation, walking with Ahmadinejad right past UN security. Naomi and I were thrust onto the main floor of the hall, for which only diplomats and one representative from each NGO were credentialed! We found a spot in the back, trying to look inconspicuous. We didn’t know what to expect!
When Ahmadinejad took the stage, one person jumped out onto the main floor screaming and waving his hands, wearing a clown hat! Security rushed to him and dragged him out, but another clown jumped out and did the same! The circus of the DRC and Ahmadinejad’s presence was finally demonstrated! After this ruckus, Ahmadinejad began speaking. Unfortunately we were unable to access headphones for the translation of the speech and were still bewildered at our presence on the main floor. A few minutes into his speech, delegates and diplomats on the main floor suddenly rose and walked out, booing the Iranian President. I quickly realized that this must be in protest, and Naomi and I joined the others around us who officially walked out in disgust (see video above).
It turns out that 23 countries from the EU walked out, along with Morocco, Jordan, and ironically enough, the Palestinian delegate (presumably because he objects to Hamas and their ties with Iran as well as Iranian politicization of the Palestinian issue).
Naomi and I quickly joined the European Union of Jewish Students who had organized a rally just outside the plenary hall which had its own share of excitement, advocates such as Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz, and UN attempts to silence the demonstrators. More about this to come!
Overall, I felt disgusted by the events at the UN yesterday. I don’t understand why Ahmadinejad was invited, and furthermore, why he received rousing standing ovations from many delegates who did not walk out. I thought the use of clown costumes and red clown noses by protesters was a perfect symbol of the circus this conference has become. After learning more about the multilateral workings of the UN, I sadly do not believe it is the forum to tackle the serious human rights issues our world faces. UN politics unfortunately further isolate real victims of racism and discrimination, and we need to look to alternative methods to make their voices heard.