A few days ago, I quoted from a post by Walter Russell Mead on “Iran and the Bomb.” Mead is one of the very few influential political analysts who regularly highlights and comments on instances of antisemitism. In his recent post on Iran, he argued that the debate about the question whether Iran’s theocrats were rational actors who would be deterred from using nuclear arms by MAD, i.e. “Mutual Assured Destruction,” was pointless because “anti-Semitism is never a rational policy, yet it persists.”
Just a few days later, Iran’s Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi was kind enough to prove Professor Mead’s point by stunning delegates at a UN-sponsored conference on combating drug-trade with a speech that the New York Times (NYT) described as “baldly anti-Semitic.”
Rahimi declared that the “Zionists” control the illegal drug trade and announced: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict […] They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.”
Rahimi also used the opportunity to talk about “gynecologists killing black babies on the orders of the Zionists;” he noted that “the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was started by Jews”, adding that “mysteriously, no Jews died in that uprising;” and he also mentioned his view that “the Talmud teaches Jews to think that they are a superior race.”
Commenting on Rahimi’s speech, Israeli Iran expert Meir Javedanfar described it as an “unprecedented, public anti-Semitic tirade in front of local and international dignitaries.” In Javedanfar’s view, Rahimi was breaking with “the usual practice of the Islamic Republic — which demonizes Zionists while purporting to respect the Jewish religion.”
But according to Javedanfar, Rahimi’s “outburst” also marked “the culmination of a recent rise in the public use of anti-Semitic language in Iran.” Javedanfar notes that in the Iranian media, “the term ‘Yahoodi Sefat’ meaning ‘of Jewish character’ is being heard more often as a character assassination tool.”
It is noteworthy that Javedanfar traces this “new trend” all the way back to late 2005:
“The new trend appears to date to Ahmadinejad’s public denial of the Holocaust in a speech on Dec. 14, 2005. On that day, Ahmadinejad became the most senior politician in Iranian post-revolutionary history to adopt this narrative. More significantly, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not stop Ahmadinejad. The president’s frequent Holocaust denial appears to have legitimized the shift from public attacks against Israel to attacks against Jews and Judaism.”
I’m doubtful that in our fast-paced times, it makes much sense to describe an almost seven year old “trend” as “new”. If there is anything new here, it is arguably the willingness of Javedanfar and others to finally acknowledge the persistent antisemitic incitement by Iran’s regime.
After all, ever since this “new” trend clearly emerged at least seven years ago, prominent guardians of political correctness have tried their very best to downplay the viciousness and danger of the unrestrained hatred against Israel that has regularly and openly been voiced by Iran’s leaders. Documenting some of these efforts, Sohrab Ahmari and James Kirchick emphasized:
“There is something deeply pernicious about the attempt to whitewash the grossly anti-Semitic ideology of Iran’s leadership—as if nitpicking over repeated mistranslations of one statement could exonerate Iran when nearly two dozen other choice utterances refer to Israel in eliminationist terms. Reasonable people can disagree about what should be done with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but not about the overt hostility embedded in the Iranian leadership’s rhetoric on Israel.”
The problem here is of course that Iran’s theocrats know all too well that “overt hostility” against Israel is widely and wildly popular not just all over the Muslim world, but also in the West.
Javedanfar emphasizes that Iranian regime officials usually take great care to talk only about “Zionists” and not about Jews, and he points out that Iranian efforts to downplay Rahimi’s remarks followed exactly this tried-and-true recipe: “where Rahimi said in Farsi that ‘Jews see others at their service,’ [Iran’s] Press TV changed that to ‘the Zionists regard themselves as the master race and they view the other races as their slaves.’”
While it is pretty ridiculous to claim that Zionists regard themselves as a “race,” the damage controllers at Press TV had every reason to think they had done their job – after all, the claim that “anti-Zionism” is usually just an innocent and above all politically-correct consequence of opposing Israel’s policies is one of the most sacred cows of the Jewish state’s many devoted critics all over the world.
This deceit is greatly helped by the reluctance of Western media to report about the widespread demonization of Jews and the Jewish state throughout the Muslim world. Organizations like MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch document how frighteningly common this demonization is, and one could therefore perhaps argue that something that is a regular phenomenon doesn’t qualify as news. But there is no doubt that many in the mainstream media share the concern once so memorably expressed by NYT correspondent Isabel Kershner, who agonized that media reports about anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement in the Middle East could be turned into politically inconvenient “propaganda points.”
Against this backdrop, I think one can only welcome the fact that Iran’s vice president chose an international forum to deliver a speech that even the NYT couldn’t help describing as “baldly anti-Semitic.” In a lengthy blog post devoted to the question “What Should We Make of Iranian Anti-Semitism?,” Adam Garfinkle makes exactly this argument:
“From my perspective, Vice President Rahimi’s remarks in an open international forum are very welcome. They demonstrate to all who care to listen the true nature of the Iranian regime, and they do so at a time when the U.S. government is pressing its allies to join very stringent sanctions against Iran on account of its nuclear ambitions in the hope that some non-violent solution to this problem can be achieved.”
The caveat here is of course that not everyone might “care to listen.” Well-qualified experts such as the historian and acclaimed author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen have long emphasized that “Iranian leaders speak of Israel using Nazi-like language and metaphors” and that “such speech has been shown to be the rhetorical prelude to genocide;” similarly, prominent public leaders and professionals like Robert Bernstein, Irwin Cotler and Stuart Robinowitz have made the case that with its persistent “genocidal anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric,” Iran has already violated the United Nations Genocide Convention, which is intended to prevent acts of genocide and therefore also outlaws incitement to genocide.
Yet, as Garfinkel rightly notes in his post, it is remarkable “how reluctant supposedly serious analysts are to credit the significance of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism in their assessment of the dangers inherent in the Iranian nuclear program.”
But this reluctance is arguably only part of a much broader phenomenon. Garfinkel provides a short outline of “how modern Muslim anti-Semitism came about,” where he points out that “many governments in the Muslim world have actively engaged in anti-Semitic propaganda as a means to deflect discontent onto others.” If “supposedly serious analysts” were to take this into account, the contemporary debate about the Middle East and the Arab/Muslim conflict with Israel would look very different. The unabashed antisemitism expressed by Iranian Vice President Rahimi may have made a difference for a few days, but it will soon be conveniently forgotten and it will remain as popular as ever to defend the “anti-Zionism” of those who believe that doing away with the tiny Jewish state will bring peace and harmony to the Middle East and the world.
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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.