Visiting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan came under sharp attack Wednesday from the speaker of Israel's parliament, who said the United Nations is biased against the Jewish state and cannot play a role in Mideast peacemaking.
Speaker Dan Tichon's remarks triggered a shouting match among Knesset legislators, with one jumping up and yelling in Annan's defense. Annan, sitting in the visitors gallery, looked bewildered and turned to a translator for explanations.Annan and his wife walked out after about 10 minutes. Members of the U.N. delegation said Annan had not left in a huff but was trying to stick to a timetable.
The incident appeared to be isolated. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Annan as "more measured and balanced" than his predecessors, and Annan joked in Hebrew about Israel's traditional suspicions of the world body.
Earlier in the day, Annan defused two potential diplomatic crises and mollified his Israeli hosts.
The secretary-general laid two wreaths - one at the Knesset and one at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial - even though U.N. protocol limits him to one per visit. At Yad Vashem, Annan said the genocide of 6 million Jews "is not only a Jewish experience but a universal one."
Annan's wife is a niece of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving 33,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II.
The couple stood for a few moments of silence in front of a carob tree planted in Wallenberg's honor at Yad Vashem, which has honored non-Jews who saved Jews by planting trees in their name at the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles.
Despite Israeli criticism, Annan stuck to a decision to meet later in the day with Faisal Husseini, a senior PLO official in Jerusalem - albeit at U.N. headquarters and not near the Palestinian Authority's unofficial base in the disputed city, as initially planned.