Czech envoy: 'Ahmadinejad crossed the line'

Ambassador to Israel explains why his country left Durban II, hopes upgrading of Israel-EU ties can resume soon.

geneva diplomats walkout (photo credit: AP)
geneva diplomats walkout
(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel, anti-Western speech on Monday in Geneva had crossed the line, Czech Ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky said Wednesday, explaining why his country pulled out of the Durban Review Conference. Zantovsky, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union, told The Jerusalem Post that his country had attended the conference in the first place because of its firm belief in multilateral diplomacy, but that Ahmadinejad's remarks were too extreme to be tolerated. "As is the case with a number of our democratic partners - whether they are among the EU member states or not - we cannot allow our presence at this conference to legitimize the completely unacceptable anti-Israeli attacks, i.e. a repetition of events that had a strong negative impact on the previous conference in 2001," the Czech Embassy said, in a press release it issued on Tuesday. "The European Union, with the Czech Republic serving as its president, actively participated in preparatory work for the Durban Review from the beginning," Zantovsky said, ahead of an official visit here Thursday by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. "Additionally, the EU attaches great importance to multilateral diplomacy, especially within the UN," the ambassador continued. "Therefore, a decision was taken not to withdraw from a UN sponsored conference at the beginning." But Ahmadinejad's speech totally contradicted the underlying foundation of the conference itself, Zantovsky said. "The EU was aware that during the conference there was a risk of attempts to hijack the attention of the international community towards other questions that are absolutely disconnected with human rights law and with the theme of the fight against racism," he said. "Unfortunately those fears came true with the inflammatory and unacceptable speech delivered by President Ahmadinejad of Iran. In response to that, the Czech Republic withdrew from the Durban Review Conference." Zantovsky added, however, that the Czech Republic viewed the final draft of the conference's outcome document as "acceptable." "It was the view of a majority of EU countries that the final draft of the outcome document was acceptable, given that no language on defamation of religion, of anti-Semitic nature or targeting specific countries or regions of the world was included in the document," he said. During his visit, Topolánek will meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Zantovsky, discussing Topolánek's planned meeting with Netanyahu, said, "we expect an exchange of views on the Middle East peace process and on the ideas of the Netanyahu government to pursue the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." "They will also discuss an economic cooperation between the two countries," Zantovsky said. "But overall it's a meeting to familiarize both sides with their views and priorities." Addressing Israel-EU relations, Zantovsky said that Israel and EU had signed an association agreement in 2000 and that Israel "actively participates in European Neighborhood Policy," a program aimed at countries interested in becoming more closely integrated with the economy of the European Union. "The EU decided on the upgrade of the EU-Israel relationship last December, but the operation in Gaza and its aftermath have not affected this process in a positive way," he said. "We very much hope that after the new government makes clear its priorities with regard to peace, the process can go ahead as planned.