Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

President Ahmadinejad of Iran

Delivered in Plenary - 6th May 2009

Madam President,

Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently asserted at the UN Conference on Racism in Geneva that Israel is a racist country. It is tempting to dismiss him as a populist demagogue courting publicity, but he has in the past outrageously called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and Israel would undoubtedly be the first target for the nuclear weapon he so much wants to build. We should therefore see his intervention in the light of his implacable hostility towards the Jewish state, which is, quite rightly in my view, the EU’s ally and strong partner.

Regarding the accusation of racism, it is hard to find a more ethnically diverse and less racist county than Israel, which includes Arab, Armenian, Druze and other minorities in its society. The image is still strong in my mind of the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1980s.

Israel still of course maintains an open immigration policy based on its status as a home for the Jewish people the world over, but we should also consider the position of Israeli Arabs in society. They enjoy democratic rights and a standard of living that are rarely accorded by Arab countries to their own citizens. My suspicion is that Ahmadinejad is actually seeking to distract attention from the appalling and abhorrent human rights record of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In Iran, journalists who dare criticise the regime are locked up, but Israel has a free press. In Iran, adulterers, homosexuals and juveniles are executed, including by stoning to death, while in Israel gays and lesbians have the full protection of the law. In Iran, minorities such as Christians and Bahá’ís are regularly persecuted, but in Israel minorities are valued and their rights safeguarded.

Yet still, despite all this evidence, many Members of this House would sooner criticise our democratic ally Israel, than denounce a barbaric and potentially catastrophic regime in Tehran.

Israel should know that it does have friends in this Parliament, friends like me who cherish human rights and reject fanaticism. Frankly, in my view, it is shameful that EU Member States sent delegations to Durban II, knowing full well that President Ahmadinejad would be present and come out with these outrageous comments.