Durban Review Debate: Jews on Ahmadinejad

Let me say up front that I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad, while no Hitler, is an opportunistic demagogue (who undoubtedly loves the Netanyahu-inspired tendency to over-inflate his importance). Nor is it wise to deny that many countries deliberately single out Israel while ignoring their own terrible human rights records.

Acknowledging these facts in no way lessens Israel’s responsibility for stopping its oppression of Palestinians.  And it doesn’t disappear Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who comically condemned the UN conference for giving a platform to his Iranian twin. (For more of my thoughts, you can see my op-ed printed today here, or hear me on Beyond the Pale or Between the Lines.)

I was there at the time and found myself rolling my eyes when Ahmadinejad employed classic anti-Semitic canards to lecture the UN on human rights, love and justice. Diana Ralph of Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices, who was at the conference, was more impressed. She has written a spirited defense of Ahmadinejad:

In the polarized context of opposing narratives, it is risky to appear to defend the “bad guy.” Everyone “knows” Ahmadinejad equals bad, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier. So why defend his speech? I don’t endorse his values and I regret that, in his speech, he did not acknowledge injustice, anti-Semitism, and racism in Iran.  However, it is NOT true that this particular speech was an anti-Semitic diatribe that denied the Holocaust.

I heard what Ahmadinejad actually said (which dropped language describing the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious” from an earlier draft— the one quoted by most mainstream and Jewish press).  You can hear his actual speech by going to and scrolling down to 15:00.  …
In his speech, I heard much with which I agreed.  For example, he objected to the UN Security Council’s veto rights over the democratic wishes of the world, particularly in supporting Israeli war crimes and violations of international law. He labelled the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq as exercises in imperial conquest, causing massive suffering, expanding the narcotics trade, and benefiting arms dealers. ….Finally he urged our collective effort to “make the world a better place full of love, fraternity, and blessings; a world devoid of poverty and hatred.”

Oxford University’s Brian Klug of Independent Jewish Voices in the UK had something entirely different to say, much more in line with my own response:

Someone might object that, unlike the Protocols [of Zion], Ahmadinejad confines his attack to Zionists and does not brand Jews collectively. But no other political movement in the world is credited with the kind of fantastical power and influence that he attributes to Zionism. Moreover, Zionism is a Jewish movement; and what he attributes to it is precisely the kind of power and influence that antisemitism attributes to Jews. It’s a bit of a giveaway. As is his embrace of Holocaust denial: no one denies (or plays down) the Nazi genocide against the Jews except for dyed-in-the-wool antisemites and certifiable lunatics. Whatever else he might be, Ahmadinejad is not insane.

I have written extensively about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and the danger of conflating them. But the one can turn into the other. And if it is wrong to make false accusations of antisemitism, it is equally wrong to turn a blind eye when it stares us in the face.

We should not be deceived by the fact that following an intervention by Ban Ki-moon, Ahmadinejad left out one or two of the most inflammatory passages that appear in the transcript … A last-minute response to diplomatic pressure from the UN secretary general does not constitute a change of heart.

Mitchell Plitnick of B’Tselem, and formerly of Jewish Voice for Peace, adds in response to Ralph’s piece:

[Ahmadinejad] said the “Zionists” essentially ordered the US invasion of Iraq (specific quote: “Was not the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then US administration in complicity with the arms manufacturing countries and the possessors of wealth?”)

And what about this modern version of the Protocols? “They [the Zionists] mobilize all the resources including their economic and political influence and world media to render support in vain to the Zionist regime and to maliciously diminish the indignity and disgrace of this regime.”

There are other, more subtle pieces to this, but come on, how can anyone who is even remotely familiar with the mechanics of anti-Semitism not see it in his speech? Is David Duke also only anti-Israel because he says Zionists and not Jews?

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