FM: Ahmadinejad's attendance proves 'Durban II' racist
Lieberman calls on nations to join boycott of UN conference on race as Israeli, Jewish students fly to Geneva to combat expected anti-Semitic rhetoric. MK Zahalka, heading Israeli-Arab delegation, says 'Israel unable to handle question of racism'
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's slated participation in a UN conference on race, scheduled for Monday, testified to the conference's "character".
"An international conference to which a racist such as Ahmadinejad, who preaches day and night in favor of Israel's destruction, has been invited to attend and give the main speech is proving its aim and its character," Lieberman said in a statement.
He also thanked the nations that have announced they will shun the conference, the most recent of which were Australia and Holland, and called on other countries "to follow in their footsteps".
"Israel cannot ignore the fact that the conference attended by a serial Holocaust denier is taking place precisely on the day in which the Jewish people mark Holocaust Remembrance Day," the foreign minister added.
Chairman of the Balad faction, MK Jamal Zahalka, told Ynet Sunday that Israel was boycotting the conference because it lacked the ability to deal with its content.
Zahalka, who is heading an Israeli-Arab delegation to Geneva, said that "Israel's trouble with the 'Durban II' conference is not the presence of Ahmadinejad, but its inability to handle the question of racism".
"Which official representative would they send? Lieberman?" he continued. "What does the Israeli Foreign Ministry have to say with such an official at its head?"
Zahalka is slated to attend a pre-conference meeting of the Arab delegations to the conference, during which the debate is set to focus on racism towards Palestinians. Zahalka said he would raise the issue of the "official racism" Israel employs against the Palestinians.
"The age of concealed racism is over, and Lieberman's appointment to the office of foreign minister proves it," he said.
Israeli students battle conference
Thirteen Israeli students also traveled to Geneva Sunday, in an effort to combat anti-Israel messages expected at the 'Durban II' conference. They were joined by dozens of Jewish students from around the world.
"We came to Geneva in order to ensure that UN institutions are not abused in order to attack Israel and make anti-Semitic statements," said Boaz Toporovsky, Chairman of the National Student Union.
"We're going into the lion's den in order to remind all of those haters of Israel that the Jewish people is on call and we won't let warmongering nations hijack the debate and preach lies," he said.
Itzik Shmueli, a student from Oranim College said, "Today, a day before the conference officially opens, a gathering is being held for human rights and democracy and against racism. They brought human rights activists from all over the world, including someone from Iran who speaks against the government in Tehran and the president's policy."
"The conference today is an antithesis of what's going to go one tomorrow at the conference itself. It pleased and surprised us. For now, they haven't said anything bad against Israel. We came because of the (Durban II) conference, at which we expect them to condemn Israel."
Earlier Sunday, Israel's ambassador to the UN Geneva headquarters, Aharon (Ronny) Leshno-Yaar slammed the conference, saying, "the United Nations conference has been left devoid of any moral validity, now that prominent nations have decided not to attend it."
Yaheli Moran Zelikovich contributed to this report