How Ahmadinejad became Israel's friend for a day.

The mixture of cheers and jeers that greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he addressed last week’s UN anti-racism conference showed he was not alone in his sentiments against Israel.

“Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering,” Ahmadinejad told the conference, on the day the Holocaust was commemorated.

“And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine.

“And, in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.”

Diplomats from at least 30 countries duly got up and left. France described the speech as “an intolerable call for racist hatred”, while the Czech Republic, which currently holds the European Union presidency, said it would not allow “the legitimization of absolutely unacceptable anti-Israeli attacks”, or return to the conference.

The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland had already shown their support for Israel by boycotting the meeting, amidst fears it would become a platform for anti-Semitic views.

And Ahmadinejad proved them right. His anti-Semitic tirade reminded the West precisely of a similar hatred against the Jewish people that had led to the massacre of 6 million on their own soil, 60 years ago. It is attitudes such as Ahmadinejad’s that are pushing Western powers to Israel’s side, confirming the necessity of its existence as a homeland for the Jews where they can be safe from persecution.

It’s a shame that Ahmadinejad’s incendiary comments overshadowed the rest of his address, which actually did have some merit. Racism, he said, was “the symbol of ignorance which has deep roots in history”, “the sign of frustration in the development of human society”. The international community should “initiate collective moves to raise awareness in afflicted societies where ignorance of racism still prevails so as to bring to a halt the spread of these malicious manifestations”.

Where he could have controlled his tirade against Israel and actually addressed how racist attitudes continue to disadvantage many, Ahmadinejad succumbed instead to inciting controversy. He made himself the story, and the plight of the very Palestinians he likes to champion all but vanished from media coverage of his speech.

He also refuses to acknowledge that the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians is not a battle of good and evil. It is, among many things, a corrupt leadership's disregard for Palestinian lives, bringing to power Hamas. It is about extremists on both sides believing in a God-given right to live in Palestinian lands.

For too long the Middle Eastern conflict has been politicised by players from within the region and without. Some sense of balance is needed. Support for Israel does not have to mean turning a blind eye to all of its mistakes or missteps; nor does a “Free Palestine” banner constitute anti-Semitism. Israel's own media does not shrink from criticism of its government and policies, and as a democracy, Israel should promote freedom for all people, including the Palestinians.

Being pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli need not be mutually exclusive. Only a bigot like Ahmadinejad would persist in believing otherwise.


Related Stories:

Full text of the President of Iran's Speech at the United Nations Racism Conference

Cheat Sheets: Iran

Cheat Sheets: Israel

Cheat Sheets: Palestinian Territories


April 2009

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dan-chyi chuaDan-Chyi Chua began her writing career with Channel News Asia, a regional cable network, before forsaking broadcast journalism to hit the road for a three-year sabbatical through the Middle East, China, Central America and Cuba. She has now grounded herself as a writer for asia! Magazine.

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