is a topsy-turvy world: At the United Nations—an organization born out of the
struggle against Nazi Germany and intended to embody the lessons of the
Holocaust—a head of state openly spouts anti-Semitic propaganda in an address
before the General Assembly. Granted, he takes the trouble to denounce
"Zionists" and avoid the word "Jew," but this dodge is
transparent to any student of the Nazis. His speech is greeted with acclaim,
and neither the U.N. secretary general nor any Western head of government bothers
to object. The media are mostly silent.
happened on September 23, and the speaker was Iranian president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad. A familiar figure at the U.N., Ahmadinejad has a history of using
his turn at the rostrum to sermonize about his yearning for the return of the
Shia messiah. This time, he went further, drawing inspiration also from the Protocols
of the Elders of Zion.
Zionists, he told the assembly, are the eternal enemy of "the dignity,
integrity and rights of the American and European people" (this is the
English translation of his remarks on the U.N. website). Although they
are few in number, the Zionists "have been dominating an important portion
of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making
centers of some European countries and the United States in a deceitful,
complex and furtive manner."
so influential are the Zionists around the world that even "some
presidential or premier nominees in some big countries have to visit these
people, take part in their gatherings, swear allegiance and commitment to their
interests in order to attain financial or media support." In particular,
even "the great people of America and various nations of Europe" are
caught in the clutches of Jewish power: They "need to obey the demands and
wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are
spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the
threats of the Zionist network against their will."
liberation is near. "Today," according to Ahmadinejad, "the
Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse. There is no way for it to
get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters."
Ahmadinejad, of course, such talk is nothing new. Addressing the international
Holocaust deniers' conference in Tehran in December 2006, he declared (in a
speech translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI) that
"the Zionist regime will be wiped out, and humanity will be
liberated"--freed, that is, from the "acquisitive and invasive"
minority he "outed" in New York as the real power behind Western
governments. The sentiment is not so far from that expressed in a Nazi
directive of 1943: "This war will end with anti-Semitic world revolution
and with the extermination of Jewry throughout the world, both of which are the
precondition for an enduring peace." Just as Hitler's utopia, his
"German peace," required the extermination of the Jews, so the
Iranian leadership's "Islamic peace" is conditioned on the
elimination of Israel.
performance elicited applause from his audience and a warm embrace from the
president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a 75-year-old
Catholic priest and holder of the Lenin Prize of the former Soviet Union.
D'Escoto is a close friend of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, in whose
government he served as foreign minister from 1979 to 1990. This is the same
Ortega who, four weeks after the Tehran Holocaust deniers' conference, joined
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in welcoming Ahmadinejad to Latin America as
a "a president willing to join with the Nicaraguan people in the great
battle against poverty."
noteworthy was the lack of reaction to Ahmadinejad's U.N. performance in
Western capitals--with three exceptions. The German and French foreign
ministers criticized Ahmadinejad's "blatant anti-Semitism," and
Barack Obama expressed disappointment that the Iranian president had been given
"a platform to air his hateful and anti-Semitic views." Otherwise
Ahmadinejad's misuse of the U.N. to spread anti-Semitic propaganda didn't even
register as a provocation.
September 23, the very day of his speech, Ahmadinejad was Larry King's guest on
CNN. King offered the Iranian president an hour-long opportunity to hold forth
as he pleased.
next day, in an article for Salon, the Iran specialist Juan Cole of the
University of Michigan took Obama to task for his comments on Ahmadinejad. Cole
quoted a single sentence from the U.N. speech--one in which Ahmadinejad
criticized the United States--while ignoring the anti-Semitic passages.
"Larry King got at the true Ahmadinejad," Cole insisted, whereas
Obama "fell into the trap of declining to make a distinction between
anti-Zionist views and anti-Semitic ones."
on September 25, Ahmadinejad visited the New York Times. In the
interview published the next day, he rehearsed his anti-Semitic notions without
protest from interviewer Neil MacFarquhar. "Zionism," Ahmadinejad
explained, "is the root cause of insecurity and wars. ...What
commitment forces the U.S. government to victimize itself in support of a
regime that is basically a criminal one?"
was in striking contrast to the Times's outrage in 2003 when Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia delivered an anti-Semitic speech. Back
then the Times wrote:
is hard to know what is more alarming--a toxic statement of hatred of Jews by
the Malaysian prime minister at an Islamic summit meeting this week or the
unanimous applause it engendered from the kings, presidents and emirs in the
only that, but the Times concluded its editorial with a sharp rebuke to
the European Union:
European Union was asked to include a condemnation of Mr. Mahathir's speech in
its statement yesterday ending its own summit meeting. It chose not to, adding
a worry that anti-Semitism displays are being met with inexcusable nonchalance.
Times is doing now what it so recently held to be
years after Auschwitz, then, has anti-Semitism entered "acceptable"
discourse? Or is the New York Times actually fooled by a rhetorical
trick? Where Mahathir was crude enough to denounce the machinations of
"the Jews," Ahmadinejad attacks only "the Zionists." He
says, "Two thousand Zionists want to rule the world." He says
"the Zionists" have for 60 years blackmailed "all Western
governments." He says, "The Zionists have imposed themselves on a
substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors."
Perhaps this is why he is hailed as an anti-imperialist star.
the Iranian president uses the term "Zionist" in precisely the way
Hitler used the term "Jew": as the embodiment of evil. Even if the
Iranian regime tolerates the presence of a Jewish community in Tehran, whoever
holds Jews responsible for all the ills of the world--whether calling them
"Judases" or "Zionists"--is propagating a potentially
fact, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have gone hand in hand for over 80 years,
not only in the annals of Nazism but also in the intellectual foundations of
the Iranian revolution.
1921, the future Nazi ideology chief Alfred Rosenberg published a book entitled
Zionism, Enemy of the State. In 1925, Hitler likewise attacked Zionism
in Mein Kampf, warning that "a Jewish state in Palestine"
would only serve as an "organization centre for their international
world-swindling, ... a
place of refuge for convicted scoundrels and a university for up-and-coming
swindlers." Or does this reading of Hitler fall into Juan Cole's
"trap of declining to make a distinction between anti-Zionist views and
a scholar who can read the writings of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the original,
Cole is surely familiar with Khomeini's anti-Semitism. And yet he passes over
this anti-Semitism in silence, just as he passed over the offensive passages of
Ahmadinejad's speech. Up until the revolution of 1979, Khomeini was entirely
open in his choice of words. "The Jews wish to establish Jewish domination throughout the world,"
he wrote in 1970 in his major work, Islamic Government.
they are a cunning and resourceful group of people, I fear that they may one day achieve their goal." In September 1977, Khomeini declared:
"The Jews have grasped the world with both hands and are devouring it with
an insatiable appetite, they are devouring America and have now turned their
attention to Iran and still they are not satisfied." The quotation comes
from an official compilation of Khomeini's works published in Tehran in 1995.
in 1979, however, Khomeini substituted the word "Zionist" for
"Jew," while leaving the fundamental anti-Semitism unchanged. The
mullahs' regime disseminated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion throughout
the world. In 2005, an English edition of the Protocols was displayed by
Iranian booksellers at the Frankfurt Book Fair--the very year Khomeini's
fervent admirer Ahmadinejad was elected president.
the anti-Semitism of the Nazis is espoused in Tehran with all the zeal that
fuels religious war. As Ayatollah Nouri-Hamedani, one of the regime's leading
religious authorities, declared in a statement published in 2005 by the
official Iranian news agency, Fars (but quickly pulled from the Fars website,
according to MEMRI): "One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so that
the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam are met." What makes the
Iranian nuclear program so dangerous is not the technology, but the religious
and anti-Semitic mission that the regime would use it to pursue.
pregnant with tragedies," Israeli president Shimon Peres told the U.N.
General Assembly the day after Ahmadinejad's appearance. "The General
Assembly and the Security Council bear responsibility to prevent agonies before
they take place." And not only the General Assembly and the Security
Council--but Larry King, the New York Times, and the rest of us as well.