Pope Benedict’s decision to send a Vatican delegation to Geneva for the UN conference on racism has opened a new rift with Jewish groups. “By participating, the Vatican has given its endorsement to what is being prepared there,” Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa, referring to fears that the conference would become an anti-Israel platform. Di Segni said the pope’s decision was “the latest imprudent step” in his relations with Jews, which were severely strained earlier this year over the pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants expressed its “deep disappointment” that the Vatican did not join the boycott of the Geneva conference. “Because the conference highlights the participation of Iran’s notorious Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad there was a particular obligation for the Vatican to have stayed away,” said the group’s vice president, Elan Steinberg. (Reuters, April 20)
In Geneva April 20, European diplomats walked out of the conference on racism after Ahmadinejad offered the following:
Following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering. And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the 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. [Reuters, April 20]
In response to the brouhaha, the United States called on Iran to end its “hateful rhetoric,” but said it still wants talks with Tehran to mend relations. President Barack Obama “disagrees vehemently” with Ahmadinejad, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, saying it vindicated the decision by the country’s first African American president to shun the conference. “This is hateful rhetoric. It’s…one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determined that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do,” he said. (AFP, April 20)
The walkout by European delegates from the conference, dubbed Durban II, was hailed by the president of the European Jewish Congress. Moshe Kantor told the Israeli daily Haartez: “European nations demonstrated they will not sit silent again in the face or barbarism.” But he added that despite the “strong message” which the walkout sends, “boycotting the event in the first place would’ve been preferable.” (Haartez, April 20)