Vatican officials object to Iranian president's remarks on Israel

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 21, 2009
{mosimage}ROME - Although members of a Vatican delegation objected to the Iranian president's remarks about Israel at a UN conference on racism, members did not think walking out was the right response, said a Vatican official.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the chief Vatican representative to UN agencies in Geneva, told Catholic News Service by telephone April 20 it was important for people not to be distracted by the remarks of the Iranian president, whose comments attacking Israel prompted a walkout by dozens of diplomats.
The Vatican sent a delegation to the Geneva conference, which was convened to examine the statement adopted in 2001 at the UN's first conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Israel left the 2001 conference when some Arab representatives argued that Zionism was equivalent to racism.

The conference, which opened in Geneva April 20, was being boycotted by Canada, the United States and several other Western countries because of fears that it would provide a platform to critics of Israel.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told conference participants that, after the Second World War, Israel had "resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering."

Western nations "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," he said.

"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."

Tomasi said much more significant than Ahmadinejad's speech were the real advances made in the draft conference document, which recognizes the Holocaust as something not to be forgotten and condemns anti-Semitism as well as intolerance against other religions. The text under consideration in Geneva has been revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.

The archbishop said it was also essential for the international community to give attention to the new forms of racism and discrimination that are emerging, especially against immigrants, the indigenous and the economically marginalized.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio April 20 that "statements like those of the Iranian president do not go in the right direction, because even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, he expressed extremist and unacceptable positions."

Noting that the great majority of countries are participating in the conference, Lombardi said the draft document being examined was "acceptable, since the main elements that prompted objections have been removed."

Some Muslim countries have pressed for a ban on language considered insulting to Islam.

Shortly after Ahmadinejad's remarks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized him for using his opportunity to address the conference "to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve. This makes it significantly more difficult to build constructive solutions to the very real problem of racism."

The previous day, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of the international conference and urged participants to take concrete steps to combat discrimination and intolerance around the world.

The Pope, speaking at a noon blessing at his villa outside Rome April 19, said the conference was important because, despite the lessons of history, racist attitudes and actions are still present in contemporary society. He encouraged participants to take "firm and concrete action, at the national and international levels, to prevent and eliminate every form of racism and intolerance." Above all, he said, a vast educational effort is needed so that human dignity and fundamental human rights are better understood and respected.

"For its part, the church teaches that only recognition of the dignity of man, created in the image and likeness of God, is able to constitute a sure reference point in this commitment," he said.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.