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Israeli boycott of Rouhani UN speech ‘a mistake’, says finance minister

27/09/2013

Yair Lapid attacks PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s instruction to Israeli delegation to leave during Iranian president’s address

Associated Press in Jerusalem | theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013

A senior Israeli minister has criticised Binyamin Netanyahu’s instruction to Israel’s UN delegation to boycott the Iranian president’s speech at the general assembly, saying it created the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran’s suspected nuclear programme.

In a text message statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, the finance minister Yair Lapid described Netanyahu’s instruction to Israeli delegates to leave during the speech as a mistake.

“Israel should not seem as if it is serially opposed to negotiations and as a country that is uninterested in peaceful solutions,” said Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party went into coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud in March. “Leaving the UN general assembly and boycotting is irrelevant in current diplomacy, and is reminiscent of the way Arab countries have acted towards Israel.”

Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb, and Netanyahu has voiced scepticism at recent moderate gestures by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, whom he has called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Israeli officials fear Rouhani’s outreach to the west could lead to an easing of international pressure on the country.

Netanyahu has explained why he instructed Israel’s delegation to boycott Rouhani’s speech.

“As the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction,” he said.

The Iranian leader said in his speech that he was ready to restart negotiations over his country’s nuclear programme and called for moderation.

Netanyahu said Rouhani’s address was filled with “hypocrisy” and that the world must keep up the pressure on Tehran.

An Israeli government official said Netanyahu believed optimism in the west about Iran’s stated willingness to restart negotiations over its nuclear programme was similar to the euphoria expressed at the beginning of the wave of uprisings in Arab countries nearly three years ago.

“At the beginning of the Arab spring, Netanyahu said it could go in a good or a bad direction, and people accused him of being a dinosaur, accused him of ignoring the new hope. Of course those detractors now agree that his assessments are connected to reality,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the matter to the media.

“He is not afraid to stand up to conventional wisdom when convinced that his assessment is correct,” the official said. “He sees this as a moral obligation.”

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani recognises ‘reprehensible’ Holocaust

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has put an end to eight years ofHolocaust denial under his firebrand predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by condemning the “crime” of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis.

In an interview after his largely conciliatory speech at the UN general assembly on Tuesday, Rouhani accepted that the Holocaust had taken place and called it reprehensible.

“I’ve said before that I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect,” Rouhani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

“But, in general, I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn.”

Rouhani’s comments were in marked contrast to those made by Ahmadinejad, who grabbed headlines for making inflammatory statements about the Holocaust during his time in office.

Ahmadinejad repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth and a lie perpetrated by the west.

“They launched the myth of the Holocaust,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran in September 2009.

“They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews … The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie … a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust.”

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, interpreted Rouhani’s remarks as the limit he could go within the political and cultural constraints placed upon him.

“We could say he is disputing the numbers, which is a valid argument,” Javedanfar said. “But he is not saying that six million were not killed. He is saying whatever the numbers, which could be six million or less, was a crime.”

Rouhani pushed the envelope as far as it could go, Javedanfar said, without infuriating the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other conservatives back home.

In the CNN interview, Rouhani said that acceptance of the Holocaust did not require the acceptance of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. “This does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too, is an act that should be condemned,” he said.

During his visit to the UN in New York, Rouhani attempted to revamp the image of Iran so badly hurt under Ahmadinejad. He was accompanied by Iran’s only Jewish MP, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, and made no direct mention of Israel in his speech to the general assembly on Tuesday.

Despite the charm offensive, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered his delegation to boycott Rouhani’s speech at the general assembly on Tuesday.

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