Tag Archives: Iran

Quote of the day: Obama’s kumbaya doctrine

“Obama wants ‘no victor/no vanquished‘ in Iraq, in Syria, in Gaza.  He likes inclusive, power-sharing, unity governments like Fatah-Hamas and Sunni-Shia-Kurd.

Why not start on Capitol Hill?  Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi can invite some Republicans to join the DSCC and DCCC, help raise funds for Tea Party candidates, and find an inclusive, power-sharing compromise on healthcare, immigration, etc.

Maybe when Democrats and Republicans master the no victor/no vanquished strategy, they can help spread inclusiveness and tolerance in parts of the world where disputes are typically resolved by other means.”

A friend commenting on President Obama’s recent New York Times interview, where he said that “he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished.”

To be fair, Obama himself suggested in this interview that Democrats and Republicans had to “adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.” But then he immediately blamed “the rise of the Republican far right for extinguishing so many potential compromises” – which leaves the question: does Obama think the Republican far right is worse than Hamas or the savage Islamic State?

But Obama’s kumbaya-doctrine is particularly worrisome given his already dismal record in the Middle East. As the indispensable Walter Russell Mead points out in an essay at The American Interest,

“It’s not clear that the President’s goal of a grand bargain with Iran is within reach, or that it will deliver the kind of stability he hopes for. For one thing, it’s possible that the Iranians are less interested in reaching a pragmatic and mutually beneficial relationship with Washington than in using Obama’s hunger for a transformative and redeeming diplomatic success to lure him onto a risky and ultimately disastrous course.”


Quote of the day: Tribal Arab dictatorships

“In fact, among tribal and sectarian Arab dictatorships, no value is ascribed to the state or the people. In a place where tribal or sectarian loyalties are more important than any other affiliation, people have no sense of being part of a people or country. In a tribal state, the people can go to hell. Hundreds of thousands can lose their lives and millions can be uprooted from their homes, scattering in all directions. None of this makes an impression on the tribal leader. There is no room for soul-searching in such a tribal social structure, because it would be perceived as a sign of weakness. And that would ultimately result in a loss of the reins of power, along with a loss of tribal hegemony, the country and its resources.

Even the Arabic term ‘dawla’ (meaning ‘dynasty’) is derived from the tribal tradition, implying the decline of one tribe and the ascent of another. It always involved the mass slaughter of the members of the losing tribe and their allies. […]

The man at the helm of this tribal mafia is not going to change his ways. His entire existence is based on his imposition of terror. Any letup in this apparatus would spell an end to his regime, and could also spell his end in the more physical sense. Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure.”

We all know how something like this would be taken if it was written by a western commentator or, to imagine the worst-case scenario, by a Jewish Israeli commentator.  But thankfully, this was written by the Israeli Druze poet and Ha’aretz columnist Salman Masalha.

Reflecting on the carnage and destruction in Syria, Masalha also notes that the Arab dictators he describes will always “continue to proclaim victory and the defeat of ‘imperialistic’ and ‘Zionist plots’ to overthrow him.”

What Masalha doesn’t mention is that until not that long ago, this went down very well with the “Arab street.” As a poll from 2008 documents:

“Across the Arab world, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is…the most popular leader, followed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The three leaders are seen as the only ones standing up against US influence in the region.”

I think Masalha’s observation that “Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure” applies not only to the Assad regime in Syria, but also to Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon and to the Iranian theocracy. But at least until a few years ago, a majority of Arabs apparently felt that standing up to the “West” and of course Israel was more important than the brutal suppression of their own people by those “heroic” regimes. This is one major reason why the region is in such a pitiful state when it comes to economic and social development.


Iranian treats: Sugarcoating Holocaust denial and nuclear weapons

Every now and then, Ha’aretz publishes an article that reminds me of the times when I, as well as many other Israelis, used to read the paper religiously. Whether or not you agreed with its left-wing stance, Ha’aretz offered quality reporting and interesting views without continuously insinuating that the majority of Israelis are just a bunch of despicable right-wing morons who fully deserve to be hated by their righteous neighbors and the noble world at large.

The article that reminded me now of those good old times is by Chemi Shalev and is entitled “Iran’s Holocaust-denial trickery may point to nuclear duplicity as well.” Because Shalev responds to a pretty disgusting piece by his Ha’aretz colleague Anshel Pfeffer – who had penned what he probably considers a really witty rant on the “obsession with Rohani’s view of the Holocaust” – Shalev begins his piece by listing the large number of his family members who perished in the Nazi genocide.

He then goes on to make some excellent points:

“I am, admittedly, one of those Jews that my Haaretz colleague Anshel Pfeffer describes as being ‘obsessed’ with Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s efforts to obfuscate, bypass and sugarcoat his regime’s Holocaust denial and/or distortion. Rohani’s whitewash campaign, I confess, insults me personally.

But Iran’s ongoing Holocaust denial, absolute or partial, is much more than a personal or even collective affront. It is a telltale sign, first and foremost, of the Iranian regime’s abiding anti-Semitism, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum makes clear: ‘Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests.’

Consequently, if the blatant Holocaust denial of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a clear-cut manifestation of their ‘hatred of Jews,’ than the more sterile version of Holocaust distortion offered by Rohani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is but a refined version of the exact same odious sentiment.

And while it may not be a conclusive litmus test for evaluating their commitment to a nuclear arrangement with the West, it is certainly valid to note that they may be playing the same game with their nuclear weapons program as they are with their refusal to accept the Holocaust. That just as they are couching their anti-Semitism in more palatable terms, so they are repackaging Iran’s continued drive to produce nuclear weapons in words that spark less suspicion and elicit less scrutiny.

This is no less a credible claim, to say the least, than the opposite contention that sees the Iranian leadership carrying out a miraculous and instantaneous 180 degree reversal, both in its anti-Semitic ideology and its overall nuclear policy.

And by the same token, the willingness of many in the media to isolate one or two catchphrase headlines from complex statements made in New York in recent days by both Rohani and Zarif […] in order to absolve them, more or less, of Holocaust denial, is grounds enough to suspect that Rohani may be getting a similar free pass when he protests his nuclear innocence.”

Later on, Chalev highlights another important point:

“And then there is the issue of equivalency, another classic gambit of Holocaust deniers. ‘The point is,’ [Iran’s Foreign Minister] Zarif told George Stephanopoulos, ‘we condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it’s happening in Palestine.’ Which is like dispatching three or four birds with one stone: The Israelis are Nazis, the Palestinians are innocents, the Holocaust wasn’t any worse than Israel’s occupation of the territories and, concurrently, Israel’s occupation of the territories is just as horrid as the Holocaust.”

What Chalev doesn’t mention is that while this equivalency is indeed “another classic gambit of Holocaust deniers,” it has become widespread and widely acceptable. It’s not difficult to find examples in political commentaries published in supposedly respectable mainstream media; one of the results is – as documented in a German study from 2010 – that some 57% of Germans believe “that Israel is waging a war of annihilation against the Palestinians” and that some 40% agreed that “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is basically no different from what the Nazis did with the Jews during the Third Reich.”

This obviously means that Iranian officials who engage in this “classic gambit of Holocaust deniers” can be sure that they will find a sympathetic audience. And there is every reason to think that somebody who nods along approvingly when Iranian officials equate the Holocaust with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians will tend to believe that there is nothing wrong with Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Indeed, Guardian readers know already that Israel’s Prime Minister is a “hawk” while Iran’s President is a “dove”…

Shoddy history and the anti-imperialism of fools

Under the title “The Professor’s Shoddy History,” James Kirchick argues in an excellent essay in Tablet that “Berlin’s Jewish Museum gave Judith Butler and Germans permission to indulge dangerous political impulses.” Kirchick offers not only interesting observations about German ambitions to show off a principled pacifism to prove that the country learned the right lessons from its terrible Nazi-past, but he also touches upon the role of fashionable “anti-imperialism:”

“[Günter] Grass’ fundamental conceit—that Israel, and not the countries threatening to wipe it off the map, will be responsible should war erupt once again in the Middle East—is the same as [Judith] Butler’s. Both rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of “imperialism” and “anti-imperialism” and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression. […] Butler—who, as a Jew, is uninhibited in what she can say about Israel in Germany—has said what Grass declared in his poem: Israel is the problem. The Israeli “state violence” she complains about exists in a vacuum; Iran’s march to nuclear weapons does not concern her, and the violence of Hamas and Hezbollah is all but ignored.


Following World War II, many Germans internalized pacifism as a fundamental political value, and it is this central belief—as well as the ability to sit in judgment of the Middle East from comfortable, prosperous Europe—that informs much of German attitudes toward Israel. Joschka Fischer, the erstwhile left-wing student activist who rose to become Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister in 1998, used to say that there were two principles that formed his political consciousness: “Never Again War” and “Never Again Auschwitz.” But when the possibility of genocide returned to the European continent during his tenure, in the form of Serb ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, these mantras came into conflict. If preventing another Auschwitz on European soil required war, the breed of German leftists embodied by Fischer argued, then it was the duty of the German left to get over its aversion to force and support war.

As the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust while promising another, continues its nuclear weapons program unabated, the German penchant for peace may once again be confronted by reality and historic obligation. […] An irony of Germany’s admirable confrontation with its horrific past is that many Germans have learned their history so well they have learned the wrong lessons—and Judith Butler validates their grave misinterpretation. That Berlin’s Jewish Museum lent a platform for such views betrays precisely the history it is meant to impart.”

As my own post on this issue illustrates, I fully agree with Kirchick’s criticism of Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The only minor point I would raise here is that, when he says that both Grass and Butler “rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression,” one should perhaps highlight very clearly that, as far as Grass and Butler are concerned, it is of course only Western power that is seen as so inevitably oppressive.

While this is already implied when Kirchick points to their “naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism,’” it is crucially important to understand the patronizing attitude that hides behind these supposedly “naïve and simplistic conceptions:” Only the West has agency and the power to do evil, while the non-West is reduced to passivity and the role of the victim.

It’s equally important to understand that this notion is also very popular in the Middle East – indeed, it arguably feeds much of the chronic sense of offense that prevents the region from developing a much needed capacity for self-criticism. Michael Young tackled this issue in a recent op-ed under the almost blasphemous title “When imperialists happen to be Muslim,” where he wrote:

“It never ceases to amaze how Arab eyes are forever on the lookout for some manifestation of Western hegemonic intent or condescension toward the Arab world, and how this vigilance seems to breaks down whenever it involves non-Western states behaving the same way. […]

Iran has never hidden its sense of neo-imperial entitlement in the Middle East, despite its claims to speak for the oppressed of the earth and to represent a bulwark against imperialism. Leaders in Tehran look upon their country as a natural regional dominator, and such thinking helps explain why they feel that they have a right to develop nuclear weapons […]

The Middle Eastern lexicon today fails to properly express that the impulse for regional domination is as strong among non-Western Muslim states as among Western states, if not more so. How odd, given that most of the empires ruling over what would become the modern Arab world were native to the region – Egyptian, Sassanid, Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman, to name the more obvious ones.”

Last but by no means least, I’d like to quote here Michael Totten’s excellent post on Judith Butler’s “Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” where Totten concludes:

“Hezbollah is notoriously hostile to every social value liberals and progressives hold dear, from women’s rights to gay rights, with one exception. Hezbollah says the United States and Israel are the Great Satan and the Little Satan. That’s it. That, all by itself, is enough to get a socially retrograde totalitarian terrorist organization labeled ‘progressive’ even by a professor who adheres to non-violent politics.

But the city of Frankfurt can give her a prize if it wants, and it can do so on September 11. Supporting European fascism is a crime now in Germany, but supporting the Middle Eastern variety is apparently fine.”

EXCLUSIVE!!! New GraSS poem: Not Peeling the Onion in Iran

The news out of Germany is that Nobel Laureate Günter Grass continues to crave the kind of attention he got a few years ago when he revealed in his autobiography Peeling the Onion that he had served in the SS.  Earlier this year, he managed to cause quite a stir when he published an awkward “poem” warning the world about the terrible danger posed by a belligerent Israel that was unduly worried by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Now he’s trying to do it again: Grass has reportedly published a new volume of “poetry” that includes not only a slightly revised version of his anguished warning from spring, but also an ode to Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician who served a long prison sentence for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear program to the British media in the mid-1980s.

There is no doubt in my mind that future editions of this poetry volume will include a poem that Grass must be working on right now – after all, how could he ignore the onion-themed bonds between himself and Iran???

In case you haven’t heard that Iran’s FARS news agency recently failed to realize that an exciting poll from the satirical news magazine The Onion was too good to be true, here’s Walter Russell Mead’s take on this incident:

“Surreal is how many people around the world describe the situation in Iran: one of the world’s great and sophisticated cultures under the rule of backward-looking mullahs who think stoning adultresses, hanging homosexuals, threatening Israelis with annihilation and building a bomb is all in a day’s work. Complete with a hate-spewing, Holocaust-denying demagogue who thinks he’s the chosen instrument of God — though he was rejected by Iranian voters in the last election — the group of clowns, thugs and religious zealots in charge of Iran looks like something out of a satire by Swift or Voltaire.

Distinctions between reality and illusion are not always clear in contemporary Iran; the latest evidence comes from FARS, an Iranian news agency which implausibly claims to be independent of the government. While trolling through western news sources looking for important news, the editors came across a shock Gallup poll: 77 percent of white rural voters in the United States would rather vote for Iran’s President Ahmadinejad than President Obama.”

So there is no doubt that Grass is now pondering poetically about not peeling the onion in Iran…

In the unlikely case that he needs some inspiration, here’s what the Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote after his recent interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

“But in this third interview I’ve had with the Iranian president, I had the sense that he genuinely believes the world is going Iran’s way. He sees an America that is facing reversals across the Muslim world — in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently, in dealing with the Arab uprisings. Close U.S. allies such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak are gone, and Ahmadinejad is still standing. […]

The most intractable subject in any conversation with Ahmadinejad is Israel, and Sunday’s discussion was no different. Pressed why he continued to make comments that Israelis regarded as hate speech, he parried back with a series of questions about Israeli occupation of Arab territory. Asked to affirm Israel’s existence, he wouldn’t.”

And Günter Grass might note with relief that when it comes to the Zionist entity, Ahmadinejad isn’t as alarmed as the German Nobel Laureate:

“We, generally speaking, do not take very seriously the issue of the Zionists and the possible dangers emanating from them,” he said early in the interview. “Of course, they would love to find a way for their own salvation by making a lot of noise and to raise stakes in order to save themselves. But I do not believe they will succeed.”

* * *


The NYT Lede blog reported yesterday that FARS published a sort of apology for running with The Onion story, but also insisted that the satire contained a big grain of truth: “we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the U.S., a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the U.S. political system to President Barack Obama.”

Judith Butler and the politics of hypocrisy

German prize award committees seem to have a weak spot for outspoken Jewish critics of Israel: writer and activist Uri Avnery has accumulated multiple German awards over the years, and the staunchly pro-Palestinian attorney and activist Felicia Langer was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First class, in 2009. Now it is the turn of Judith Butler, an American philosopher and professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize on September 11 in Frankfurt.

To be sure, the Adorno Prize is awarded to “acknowledge outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film” – which is to say that it is Butler’s academic work, and not her political activism that are being honored with the prize. However, it is obviously Butler’s academic fame and her status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies that make her activism very valuable to her political allies in the BDS-movement that targets Israel. Critics who argue that it is therefore disingenuous to pretend that Butler’s contribution to philosophy can be honored irrespective of her political activism obviously have a point.

There are indeed several problematic political implications of honoring Butler with the Adorno Prize.  First and foremost, it has to be noted that, while we cannot know how Adorno would feel about Israel now, we do know that he was very concerned about the antisemitic and anti-Zionist tendencies that became acceptable and even fashionable on the left in the 1960s.  At the beginning of the Six-Day-War in 1967, Adorno expressed great alarm about the danger Israel faced and explicitly stated that he hoped that Israel would prove militarily superior to the Arabs. Shortly before his death in 1969, he worried that the open hostility to Israel displayed by the student movement might indicate fascist tendencies.  [See: Stephan Grigat, Befreite Gesellschaft und Israel: Zum Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Israel; a shorter version is: Kritische Theorie und Israel: Adorno, Horkheimer und Marcuse über den Zionismus]

It is therefore hard to imagine that Adorno would have been anything but horrified by Judith Butler’s view that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” While Butler also emphasized that there were “certain dimensions of both movements” that were problematic and that she herself was firmly committed to “non-violent politics,” she also eventually clarified that in her view, Hamas and Hezbollah qualified as “left” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism.”

How completely inane this view is will be readily apparent to anyone who has ever glanced at the Hezbollah or Hamas Charters, and there is arguably a strong case to be made that somebody who is able to see anything “progressive” in groups that define themselves in the most reactionary religious terms and advocate an unbridled Jew-hatred should automatically be disqualified from winning a prize named after Adorno.

Unsurprisingly, Butler has reacted to criticism of her views regarding Hamas and Hezbollah by complaining that her remarks “have been taken out of context.” She mainly emphasizes now that she has “always been in favor of non-violent political action” and explicitly declares: “I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have.”

But it is arguably revealing that Butler chose the Mondoweiss website to publish her most recent rebuttal. Surely an academic of her standing had many other choices and did not have to turn to a site that has often been criticized for hosting antisemitic posts and comments as well as antisemitic cartoons? On such a site, it is somewhat strange to read Butler’s lament:

“For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating.”

And how come that somebody who evokes such a family history has nothing to say about the Jew-hatred espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their acknowledged ideological sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime?

How come that somebody who evokes such a family history would eloquently speak out in favor of boycotting Israeli universities, but would have no problem to lecture at Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism? One former student of Birzeit University is Ahlam al-Tamimi, the exceedingly proud collaborator in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing whose release in exchange for Gilad Shalit was publicly celebrated by the Islamic bloc at the University of Birzeit.

Adorno prize winner Judith Butler can only imagine to speak at Tel Aviv university once it is a “fabulous bi-national university,” but she has no problem lecturing at Birzeit University, where Ahlam al-Tamimi is a much admired celebrity.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

“Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has designated the last Friday of Ramadan “Al-Quds Day,” leading worldwide protests calling for the destruction of Israel. In that spirit, over 1,000 protesters […]  marched through downtown Berlin on Saturday denouncing Israel and praising Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon.

Unlike the neo-Nazis rocking out to “white power” music in a secluded cornfield [during a NPD event at a remote location a week earlier], the Islamists calling for the destruction of the Jewish state in the heart of the German capital did not stir the consciences of the country’s major political parties. As opposed to the 2,000 people who trekked out to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern [to protest the NPD event], only 300 or so anti-Islamist protesters, the majority of them affiliated with Jewish organizations, held a separate counter-demonstration, where the only political figure to speak was a former member of the German Bundestag.

In a free society, extremists ought to be able to say whatever they like. But a graver issue was highlighted by last Saturday’s open support for Hezbollah. The European Union, unlike its allies in Australia, Canada and the United States, refuses to treat the faction as a terrorist group, allowing it to organize and raise funds. The New York Times describes Germany as “a center of activity” for the group.

[…] Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, it’s reassuring to know that Germany has “no place for Neonazis.” A more pressing question is why it has room for those carrying on their legacy.”

James Kirchick in a Ha’aretz article entitled “A perverse quid pro quo.” This title (which may well have been chosen by Ha’aretz editors) refers to Kirchick’s argument that “European governments have fashioned a perverse quid pro quo whereby they permit a foreign terrorist organization to operate on their soil, provided that its targets are Israeli, not European.” However, this point is arguably secondary to Kirchick’s much more important argument that both German officials and the German public can be counted on to take a firm stand against German neo-Nazis,  while remaining apparently oblivious to the Nazi-style antisemitism that is so openly championed by the Iranian regime and its allies like Hezbollah.

Reading through any list of statements by Iranian officials on Israel will quickly reveal that, just as Nazi propaganda relentlessly repeated the slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” – i.e. the Jews are our misfortune –, Iranian regime officials relentlessly incite hatred and revulsion against the Jewish state.  Yet, supporters and allies of this regime can freely march through Germany’s capital to celebrate a day dedicated to anticipating the annihilation of the world’s only Jewish state.

Imitating Iran in Palestine – or vice versa

While the recent speech by Iran’s Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi at a UN-sponsored conference on combating drug abuse was widely condemned as deluded and antisemitic, Palestinian Authority officials were apparently so thrilled that they competed to emulate Rahimi. As Palestinian Media Watch (PMW)reports:

“One day after Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi was condemned internationally for saying that Jews and their Talmud are responsible for international drug trafficking, no less than five articles in the official PA daily cited different Palestinian Authority officials accusing Israel of having a policy to disseminate drugs among Palestinian youth.

The Governor of Jericho said that Israel “is encouraging and turning a blind eye to [drug] dealers and their efforts to distribute drugs, through a systematic policy to destroy Palestinian society, targeting the youth.”

The District Governor of Jenin said Israel “seeks to harm the Palestinian people and to destroy it and its national enterprise [through drugs] as a continuation of its Zionist enterprise.”

The District Governor of Ramallah spoke about the drug problem, mentioning Israel’s “efforts to humiliate our youth, to break their willpower, and to distance them from their [Palestinian] cause and their principles, by spreading drugs among them” and emphasized that “the occupation does not hesitate to exercise all forms of control over our youth, using dirty and inhuman methods.”

[Emphasis original]

However, it is perhaps grossly unfair to say that the Palestinians are imitating the Iranians, because PMW has a list of similar accusations going back all the way to 1999…

In any case, Palestinian educators are working hard to teach their young people to stay away from drugs. Even if it’s just cigarettes, the message is that there is a better alternative: Palestine “doesn’t need youth who hold cigarettes. It needs men who hold machine guns.”

Prominent Iranian ‘anti-Zionist’ shows his true colors

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.

Quote of the day

“[It] should be obvious by now to all reasonable observers that Iran is an unstable regime shot through with dangerous anti-Semitic impulses, apocalyptic fantasy and convoluted conspiracy thinking that has no business anywhere near nuclear weapons. In this regard, much ink has been spilled over whether the mullahs are “rational actors” or not–i.e. whether they would bomb Israel even if this would result in devastating retaliation–but Via Meadia thinks that such speculation misses an important point: anti-Semitism is never a rational policy, yet it persists. Infamously, Hitler and the Nazis exiled their own best physicists because they were Jewish, enabling the US to win the nuclear arms race and ultimately World War II. History is replete with stories of countries driving productive citizens into exile because Jew-hatred is an irrational passion that overmasters common sense and destroys the ability to perceive ones own best interests.”

Walter Russell Mead on “Iran and the Bomb” – the most recent post of many in which Mead speaks out about contemporary antisemitism.