The run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday has produced some excellent articles drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb. But there’s another parallel that’s equally disturbing: the world’s indifference to the relentless incitement to genocide of both Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity to call for “wiping Israel off the map.” Since there’s no way to eradicate Israel without also slaughtering a large number of its 7.8 million inhabitants, that is a blatant call for mass murder. Yet he has never, for instance, been declared persona non grata by the EU or investigated for incitement to genocide by the International Criminal Court; indeed, he has been feted in many parts of the “enlightened” West, from lecture invitations at Columbia University to joint press conferences with a fawning Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
But as Prof. Shlomo Avineri pointed out this month, even more troubling is the silence of world Jewry on this issue – a stark contrast to its activism over, say, Soviet Jews.
“Through demonstrations outside Soviet embassies, embarrassing questions about freedom of emigration at all news conferences of Soviet leaders in the West, and in dozens of other ways,” Avineri noted, Jewish activists turned the Soviets’ refusal to let Jews emigrate into a burden on the regime. But they haven’t done the same with Iran, even though there’s “no reason why demonstrations should not be held outside Iranian embassies in any place in the world, why Iranian ambassadors should not be accompanied at every appearance or trip by demonstrators carrying placards with ‘Holocaust deniers – out!’”
Partly, this may be due to a widespread sentiment that words matter less than deeds – which explains why Jewish groups have been active in trying to persuade Western governments to take stronger steps against Iran’s nuclear program. Yet ignoring Ahmadinejad’s calls for genocide is a grave mistake, for two reasons.
First, history amply proves that when tyrants declare their intention to slaughter the Jews, they often mean exactly what they say. Hitler, who made his intentions crystal clear in Mein Kampf 14 years before World War II began, is only the most famous example. Nor is this unique to Jews: Most genocides begin with incitement; that’s precisely why incitement to genocide is a prosecutable international crime that has already produced several convictions, especially in connection with the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
But beyond that, Jews worldwide should be concerned with the desensitization effect: By consistently advocating genocide without eliciting any serious condemnatory response, Ahmadinejad is gradually turning “kill the Jews” into acceptable public discourse.
Last week, Adam Kirsch wrote a chilling analysis for Tablet of how “Jews control America” rhetoric has moved from the fringes to the respectable mainstream of American discourse in just a few short years. It takes longer to mainstream calls for mass murder. But if left unchallenged, Ahmadinejad’s calls for genocide will eventually become mainstream as well.
Judging by the degree to which he has not become a pariah, his rhetoric is already acceptable to far too many “enlightened” Westerners.