Text size

Click here for more about the Durban II conference

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday branded Israel a "racist government," charging the West with dispossessing the Palestinians "on the pretext of Jewish suffering from World War II."

The remarks seemingly living up to concerns that the United Nations conference on racism which he was addressing would turn into a forum to vilify the Jewish state.

The comments sparked a mass walk-out of the conference hall by dozens of Western delegates to the summit.

Ahmadinejad accused Israel of "being the most cruel and racist regime," sparking a walkout by angry Western diplomats at the conference and protests from others.

In a rambling speech, Ahmadinejad on Monday pointed the finger at the United States, Europe and Israel and said they were "destabilizing the entire world."

Some European diplomats immediately walked out of the room when Ahmadinejad said Israel was "created on the pretext of Jewish suffering from World War II."

"The UN security council has stabilized this occupation regime and supported it in the last 60 years giving them a free hand to continue their crimes," Ahmadinejad said.

"What were the root causes of the U.S. attacks against Iraq or invasion of Afghanistan?" the Iranian president said. "The Iraqi people have suffered enormous losses ... wasn't the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists ... in the U.S. administration, in complicity with the arms manufacturing companies?"

"The Security Council made it possible for that illegitimate government to be set up," Ahmadinejad said. "For 60 years, this government was supported by the world. Many Western countries say they are fighting racism, but in fact support it with occupation, bombings and crimes committed in Gaza. These countries support the criminals."

A wigged protester shouting "Racist! racist!" threw a soft red object at Ahmadinejad, hitting the podium and interrupting his speech.

Click here for excerpts of the contentious Durban draft documents

Ahmadinejad's speech came as Israel prepared to mark its own Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Iranian leader has repeatedly claimed the Holocaust never happened and has called repeatedly for Israel's destruction.

The president also criticized the United States, which had boycotted the conference along with a host of other countries, accusing it of invading Iraq and Afghanistan solely to "expand its sphere of control."

The first anti-racism conference, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, was dominated by condemnation of Israel, which led to a walk-out by the United States and Israel.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned Ahmadinejad for his tirade against Israel.

Ban says the Iranian leader "used his speech to accuse, divide and even incite, directly opposing the aim of the meeting."

"Such outrageous anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a UN anti-racism forum," said British ambassador Peter Gooderham, whose country chose not to send a minister to Geneva.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Ahmadinejad's statement were "offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable."

But he defended the UK's decision to participate in the conference, saying that "nor should we leave the international stage only to those, like President Ahmedinejad, who would take global efforts against racism backwards."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Ahmadinejad's speech an "intolerable appeal for racist hatred."

The French president "totally condemns this speech of hatred," his office said in a press statement, adding that Sarkozy "is calling for an extremely firm reaction by the European Union."

The U.S. deputy envoy to the UN called Ahmadinejad's speech "vile and hateful."

"It does a grave injustice to the Iranian nation and the Iranian people, and we call on the Iranian leadership to show much more measured, moderate, honest and constructive rhetoric when dealing with issues in the region," U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said.

Norwegian Foreign Minster Jonas Gahr Store, who was the first speaker to take the floor after Ahmadinejad's speech, said he "strongly rejected" Ahmadinejad's remarks.

Store said that Ahmadinejad had set himself apart from others, violating the spirit of the conference.

"Norway will not accept that 'the odd man out' kidnaps the efforts for the many," he said.

Actor Jon Voight, a staunch Israel supporter, also lashed out at the Iranian president.

"I am here today as a voice - for the love of freedom, for the love of democracy, for the love of life ... freedom to be who we wish to be and freedom to worship how we want to worship ... and to denounce the regime of evil that permeates from Ahamdinejad an all his evil followers," Voight told the press.

Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University, who was hauled away by authorities on Sunday after attempting to confront Ahmadinejad during his meeting with the Swiss president in a Geneva hotel, said: "Ahmadinejad is trying to turn human rights into human wrongs by excluding from the human rights agenda more than half of humanity - women, Bahais, gays, Jews, non-Muslims and dissenters. He must fail, as tyrants before him have failed."

"If there was any doubt about what Ahmadinejad and conference organizers Iran, Libya, Pakistan and their allies had in mind as they planned Durban II, it has now been made abundantly clear," said Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress."

It should surprise no one that Ahmadinejad, an avowed Holocaust denier and sponsor of international terror, would vent forth the hatred, vitriol and lies that he spewed during his address to the Durban II delegates."