European Union states are split over whether to follow a US boycott of a controversial UN conference on racism, amid fears the event could slide into anti-Semitism.
Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have joined Australia, Canada, Israel and the United States in deciding to stay away from the five-day Durban Review Conference.
But other countries – including France, Belgium and the UK – are set to attend the meeting, in the Swiss city of Geneva.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Geneva on Sunday, with experts predicting he would launch a verbal onslaught on Israel at the conference.
Ahmadinejad has previously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and questioned the Holocaust as a “myth”.
The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since the controversial World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, eight years ago.
Meeting \’a platform for offensive views\’
But Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy denounced the event as a “tragic farce.”
“Officially it is aimed at denouncing racism, but it has invited a Holocaust denier who has called for the destruction of Israel,” he explained.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said they could not be sure the conference would be used “as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views.”
US President Barack Obama said anti-Israeli language that was “oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive” in the draft final communique had been the red line for his administration.
“If we have a clean start, a fresh start, we\’re happy to go” to a future meeting, he told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.
And Germany pulled out on Sunday, citing concerns the event would be “hijacked for other interests, as was the case with the previous one in 2001,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer said.
UN \’disappointed\’ by US boycott
The Paris-based European Jewish Congress kept up the pressure, calling on all EU states to boycott the event.
Ahmadinejad\’s presence meant the United Nations had “put the fox in charge of the hen house,” said EJC president Moshe Kantor.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was “shocked and deeply disappointed” by Washington\’s decision to stay away.
Campaigners Human Rights Watch said the boycotting states were “turning their backs” on victims of racism.
Monday, as well as being the anniversary of Adolf Hitler\’s birth, also marks the start of Holocaust commemoration events, including a ceremony in Geneva attended by leading Jewish figures including Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel.