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Nobel Laureate Wiesel Condemns Ahmadinejad At Geneva Meeting

Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel (left) stands among Jewish sympathizers and demonstrators after Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's speech at the opening of the UN conference on racism.
(RFE/RL) -- Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel has accused Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of fanning hatred by attacking Israel at a UN conference on racism.

Wiesel called the presence of Ahmadinejad and his opening speech at the UN racism conference on April 20 "an insult to our intelligence."

"Here we are now in the United Nations, an organization created as a response to the atrocities of the Second World War and we have to protest against anti-Semitic speech," Wiesel said.

Wiesel, a Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor, addressed the UN conference in Geneva as it tried to get back on track after most Western states walked out in protest against Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad sparked the furor when he criticized the creation of a "totally racist government in occupied Palestine" in 1948, calling it "the most cruel and repressive racist regime."

"After World War II, using the excuse that Jews were victimized and abused during the Holocaust, they made a nation homeless, and they transferred [people] from Europe, the United States, and other countries to their land, and they created a racist government in the occupied Palestinian territories," he said, amid applause and shouts.

Meeting Boycotted

Ahmadinejad's remarks prompted all 23 European Union delegates present to walk out of the conference room.

The meeting had been already boycotted by the United States, Israel, Australia, Italy, and Germany, which decided not to attend the conference in protest against Ahmadinejad's presence.

The comments that [Ahmadinejad] made, frankly, were unacceptable and, frankly, feed racial hatred.
The boycotting states had feared the current meeting would be marred by charges of racism against Israel much as happened at the first UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

In Durban, the U.S. and Israel walked out midway into that event over an attempt by Muslim countries to liken Zionism -- the movement to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land -- to racism.

Ahmadinejad's remarks aroused still greater antipathy from EU states because they coincided with the annual Holocaust commemoration day, whose observance began on April 20.

Six survivors of the Holocaust lit six beacons at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem to honor of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.

April 20 was also the anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler.

On April 21, sirens wailed for two-minutes in Israel to remember the victims of the Nazi genocide.

And an annual March of the Living at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, paid respect to those killed there.

Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for Israel to be wiped off the map and described the Holocaust as a "myth," came under strong fire from conference organizers as well as Western states for his latest remarks.

'Accuse, Divide, Incite'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Iranian president has misused the antiracism conference.

The UN chief said he had asked Ahmadinejad before his speech to avoid dividing the conference in Geneva. But he said the Iranian president had instead used the podium "to accuse, divide and even incite," in direct opposition to the aim of the meeting.

And the U.S. State Department called Ahmadinejad's remarks "unacceptable."

"The comments that [Ahmadinejad] made, frankly, were unacceptable and, frankly, feed racial hatred," spokesman Robert Wood said. "Iran needs to end this type of inflammatory rhetoric. It’s not helpful. And I think you saw today a number of delegates walked out during his speech, which I think sent a very powerful message to Iran that this type of rhetoric is unhelpful, it's counterproductive."

The Czech Presidency of the European Union said that the bloc "rejects in strongest terms views expressed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad labeling Israel as [a] racist regime."

The UN summit is expected to approve a final document on April 24 that avoids any offense to the Jewish state.

The Czech Presidency's statement said those EU nations participating in the forum "have no outstanding difficulty of substance with the draft Outcome Document and are ready to give...consent to it during the adoption on [April 24]."

The goal of the UN forum is to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance since the Durban gathering.

Final documents issued by the UN racism summits have no enforcement power.

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