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Israel Recalls Ambassador After Swiss Leader Meets with Ahmedinejad

Israel has recalled its ambassador to Switzerland after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The meeting happened on the sidelines of a U.N. racism conference that Israel says had an anti-Israeli agenda.

Israel's government saw the meeting between the Swiss leader and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as an insult and recalled its ambassador to Switzerland to show its displeasure.

Mr. Ahmedinejad has called for the destruction of Israel and has suggested the Holocaust, in which six million Jews perished, did not happen.

Israel: Swiss decision 'a mistake'

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor tells VOA Israel considers Switzerland a friendly country, but believes the Swiss leader's decision to host the Iranian president was a mistake.

"The Swiss president decided to welcome officially the Iranian president and to offer him dinner, an official dinner. That was not called for. The protocol did not require that," Palmor said.

The Israeli official says his government believes the Swiss leader's action sends the wrong message to extremists in the Middle East, and to those in Iran who are calling for the annihilation of the Jewish State.

"This is perceived by the Iranian regime and its supporters as a sign of encouragement to their position," he said.

Switzerland: Iran requested meeting

Swiss officials tell VOA the Iranian leader requested the meeting late Sunday. They said during the encounter, President Merz criticized Iran's human rights record and the statements Mr. Ahmedinejad has made on his denial of the holocaust and of Israel's right to exist.

At the U.N. racism conference on Monday, the Iranian leader referred to Israel as a "totally racist government."

He prompted a walkout of western delegates after he said nations of the West had sent Jewish migrants to what is now Israel after World War II in order to drive Palestinians from their lands and create the Jewish State.

Reason behind Israeli boycott of meeting

Israel boycotted the meeting in Geneva out of concern it would allow Muslim countries to use the meeting as a platform to criticize Israel. The United States also boycotted the gathering in Geneva.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the racism conference a "display of hatred," and noted it was taking place as Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that while Israelis were remembering the six million Jews who died at the hands of German Nazis in World War II, the conference in Switzerland was hosting the Iranian leader, who Mr. Netanyahu described a racist Holocaust denier.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said the Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland would remain away from his post in Switzerland for a few days.