Mahmoud Ahmedinejad fulfilled all the promise he brought with him to Geneva for the Durban II conference.
He rambled about Israeli racism (whilst one wonders what a Baha’i observer might have been thinking) and said that the “pretext of Jewish suffering” was used to cover Israeli crimes. He firmly re-established his bona fides as an
anti-Semite and a demagogue, and in so doing seriously undermined the good efforts at Durban II.
The conference organizers really wanted to get past the 2001 conference. But their own short-sightedness doomed them. There was every reason to believe that Ahmedinejad’s speech was going to be just what it turned out to be-a full rehash of all the 2001 problems. Yet they welcomed him to the podium anyway. Now they have an even more formidable task of trying to overcome both 2001 and Ahmedinejad’s appearance.
In an interesting coincidence, the European Commission had just chastised some of its own member states for boycotting the conference in anticipation of Ahmedinejad’s appearance. And then most of the rest of the EU states walked out on the speech. Ahmedinejad, as this response demonstrates, dealt a serious blow to those who are advocating engagement with Iran and bolstered the case of those who contend, incorrectly, that the Iranian regime cannot be dealt with rationally.
Iran’s history, even under the Islamic Revolutionary regime, has been one of a rational actor pursuing, in many cases with criminal and objectionable means, rational goals of enhancing its own position and power. They can be dealt with. But Ahmedinejad, who is not the head of the Iranian state, has repeatedly shown himself to be an unreasonable figure. In these tense times, with Israel rattling its military sabers, this is a very stupid move.
Once again, the foolish singling out of Israel has undermined the Durban process. This time, it was due to a really stupid decision on the part of the organizers, and despite the fact that this one decision stood in marked contrast to the vast efforts made to avoid just this outcome.
But not be outdone, Israel recalled its ambassador from Switzerland because their prime minister met with Ahmedinejad before his appearance at the conference. The Netanyahu government wanted, apparently, to make sure that Ahmedinejad didn’t corner the market on looking foolish. The Swiss have a long tradition of staying out of others’ disputes and trying to engage and mediate.
Israel knows that very well. Surely they cannot reasonably expect the Swiss government to snub a visiting head of state they are not in conflict with, however objectionable that head of state may be. That’s simply unrealistic. It’s just another move by Bibi to win populist points at home and never mind the expense to Israel’s image in the rest world.