Tag Archives: Ahmadinejad

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 http://www.un.org/webcast/durbanreview/archive.asp?go=090420 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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Ahmadinejad’s speech: Why it was a disaster.

I was at Ahmadinejād’s speech yesterday, and I have the crappy photos from the media area to prove it. It was dramatic, to say the least. Counter-protesters yelled (and were removed) throughout; applause lines invariably left half the room silent; there was obviously over exuberant applause from the Iranian delegates which made you wonder, and at a dramatic but expected moment at the beginning, the European delegates walked out.

I’ll quote from Human Rights Watch’s statement and the NYT, because, with one major exception regarding the Times, they roughly match my response to the speech. But I’ll add that somewhere in the middle of his talk, I suddenly felt anxiety coursing through my body and actually thought, “I wonder if this is how wars get started?” It was just a feeling, and may have no basis in reality, but it should be absolutely clear that- at times soaring rhetoric aside- this man has absolutely no interest in authentic peace and justice. And I do not trust either my own government or Israel to not start bombing.

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Israel’s publicity campaign at Durban II- not really boycotting after all

Turns out Israel is here in full force at Durban II. Earlier today I told you about the range of Israeli-government-narrative-only events being held in UN buildings, while Palestinian NGOs have been banned from holding side-events. (The transparent excuse is that the side-events can not be region specific, only issue specific. The real story is the UN simply folded to pressure.)

As one respondent told me, the UN Human Rights Commissioner is still reeling because she folded on all of the US demands to essentially cleanse the Palestinian narrative from the conference, and still the US and others pulled out. Of course, the UN can’t say no to any leader of state who wants to speak. I’ll post more later about the disaster that was Ahmadinejad’s speech, which, it can be said with certainty, put the issue of Israel and the US back into the center of the conference. In fact, his speech made the scarily well-run Israeli government/pro-occupation NGO propaganda campaign almost unnecessary.

Haaretz explains:

Israel, which had said it would boycott the event from the outset, announced it would launch a publicity campaign while it is going on. Israel is particularly concerned with the planned address by Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and said it will organize demonstrations during the speech, and will distribute materials on human rights violations in Iran – with particular emphasis on public executions and violence against women.

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Durban Review UN Conference 2009- Ahmadinejad, Dershowitz and Angelina Jolie’s crazy dad

Palestinian groups banned from UN conference side-events while Alan Dershowitz and Angelina’s dad get special treatment.

I’m writing this post from Geneva and already the surreal circus has begun. The controversy over Israel threatens to once again completely overshadow the massive, important work done by NGOs to combat racism and discrimination. First, the US just announced it is boycotting Durban II. As Mondoweiss says:

The conference is a follow up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The US walked out of that conference due to criticism of Israel and Zionism (and pressure over reparations for slavery also allegedly played a role). The State Department has said the US is boycotting the review conference for the same reasons. There was a concerted effort by Israel and the Israel lobby here in the US to pressure the US to boycott and they are wasting no time in celebrating the victory.

And no wonder, the final Durban I document was 61 solid pages of ranting against Israel, invective-filled hate, epithets, vile denunciations, plans for Muslim world domination ….Oh wait, oops, I was reading a right-wing press release!

Actually, out of 61 solid pages on racism and discrimination, these are the 6 relevant paragraphs that refer in some way to Israel and Jews (updated):

58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten; 

61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities; 

63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;

64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security; 

151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect  for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;

151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom; 


Moshe Yaroni makes the point that justifying the US boycott on Durban II’s endorsement of these words is absurd. (The atmosphere of Durban I, he stresses, is a different question.) On the other hand, a conference where Iran’s Ahmadinejad, yes, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day  “bodes very ill.” No kidding. (Apparently unaware of their own shameful human rights record, in keeping with Ahmadinejad’s provocations, a government-sanctioned Iranian group tried to hand out vile anti-Israel propaganda today. Organizers of the NGO parallel forum turned them away.)

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