Ahmadinejad Gives Another Victory to the Israeli Right: It's time for Muslims and Arabs to join us in Denouncing his Racism and Holocaust Denial
By Rabbi Michael Lerner , editor, Tikkun Magazine and chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives (a version of this appeared today on Relgion Dispatches.org--a very exciting blog created by Evan Derkacz, who previously worked at TIKKUN) April 21, 2009
When representatives of many Arab and Muslim nations publicly applaud Ahmadinejad's racist rant, the real losers are the Palestinians.
The Likud Party benefits from Ahmadinejad's rants (billboard reads: Standing strong against Hamas). Image courtesy Hadar.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban II conference on racism turned into a racist rant against Israel and the Jewish people. The conference, intended to give the people of the world an opportunity to challenge racism, lost all credibility when many in attendance applauded Ahmadinejad's claim that the Jewish people used the Holocaust as a pretext to take over and dominate the people of Palestine. Ahmadinejad, you'll recall, won global attention when he became the first leader of a UN country to call for the wiping out of another UN country (though he later claimed he was only calling for regime change), and for denying the very existence of the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad's tirade makes quite a bit more sense in the context of domestic Iranian politics. Playing to anti-Semitism and anti-Western attitudes may be his only hope as he runs for re-election on a failure to deliver the end of poverty and powerlessness promised during the last campaign. What makes less sense is why some of his fellow Muslims have not denounced this anti-Semitism more vigorously.
[We've attached a full transcript of the speech because the media accounts really don't give you the full sense of it. Ahmadinejad describes the history of the past century as though the Zionists were running the world, the imperialist countries were merely extensions of the Zionist project, and thus ascribes to the Jewish people a power that exceeds that of all other forces on the planet. This readng, of course, has no way to explain how such a powerful group could end up getting murdered in their millions and why they were unable to get the Allied countries to intervene sooner against Hitler, or to bomb the concentration camps, or to impose an entirely Jewish state in Palestine. It is a reading of history which only sounds plausible to those who have no knowledge of the history of the 20th century, but that, as it turns out, is the majority of the people of the world. So the story he tells, while seeming nothing less than paranoid insanity to those who are familiar with the facts, is precisely the kind of distorted reading that made it possible for Hitler to gain a following by claiming that all of Germany's problems came from the Jews, the communists, the gypsies and the homosexuals. Needless to say, communist, gypsies and homosexuals are also in grave danger in Iran, though the primary public target of hatred is "the Zionist state." Today, Holocaust Memorial Day, we at Tikkun want to acknowledge that this kind of thinking is worthy of public challenge by all reasonable people on the planet, just as we at Tikkun challenge every other form of hate-mongering, including those forms that appear at times in sectors of the Jewish world. And we invite our Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, humanist, atheist and all other brothers and sisters to join us in challenging this poison.]
The creation of the State of Israel was a product of a Jewish nationalist movement that arose at the end of the 19th century and sought to provide protection for Jews who were treated as second class citizens in both Christian Europe and Muslim countries for many hundreds of years. The desire for a safe haven made perfect sense, though the antagonism that they encountered from many Palestinians made perfect sense as well given the previous history of Western colonialism and Christian crusades.
Palestinians saw the Jews as an invading force that would uproot their own Arab society. Yet most Jews coming to Palestine were fleeing oppression, and simply could not understand how Palestinians would view them as agents of a Christian West that had been murdering Jews as "Christ killers" for at least 1500 years. The mutual misunderstandings were predictable, though not inevitable, and both sides bear considerable responsibility for not reaching out in a more generous way toward the other. In the end, each party's insensitivity strengthened those elements on the other side who were most fearful for their existence (I've told this story in more detail in my book Healing Israel/Palestine).
The failure of most countries of the world to open their doors to Jews seeking to escape Nazi persecution, and then the resolute opposition of the Palestinian movement to allowing Jewish refugees from coming to Palestine during and after the Holocaust, set the stage for the first act of global affirmative action: the vote by the United Nations to create the State of Israel. Had the Palestinian people accepted the UN division of Palestine, the two states that Palestinians seek today would have already been in existence.
Without trying to tell the whole story, I do believe that Israel's current policies toward the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza are cruel, repressive, and de facto racist. Many of us who support Israel's right to exist are strong critics of its current policies.
Yet one reason why the peace forces are unable to win majority support in Israel or among the Jewish people as a whole is that too many Arabs and Palestinians seek, not a two-state solution, but the total elimination of the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Ahmadinejad, like Hamas, and like many other voices in the Arab and Islamic world, conflate legitimate criticism of Israel's policies with an assault on Israel's existence; an error which becomes even more outrageous when linked to a denial of the Holocaust or the anti-Semitism that led to the flight of some one million Jews from Arab countries between 1947 and 1967. When Prime Minister Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, and other right-wing extremists are able to point to this irrational hatred of the Jewish people as the "real" underlying message of the critics of The Occupation, they stir up fears among Israelis that seem to be rationally founded, given the hatred being expressed.
All the more so when one witnesses the striking silence about the racism that led to the Hutu-Tutsi massacres, the destruction of Buddhism in Tibet by Chinese racism, the oppression of women and gays in many Muslim countries, and the list could go on and on. By singling out Israel, Ahmadinejad proves the case for many Israelis that the critique is not simply a matter of rational opposition to oppressive policies, but rather a manifestation of the very hatred that makes it imperative for Jews to protect themselves by any means necessary. We at Tikkun and our affiliated Network of Spiritual Progressives will not use the Ahmadinjad speech as an excuse to quiet our critique of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, discriminatory toward Palestinians living in Israel and racist and repressive against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. But we also will insist that the real crimes of recent governments of the State of Israel pale in comparison to the crimes committed by China in Tibet or the US in Vietnam and Iraq, the ARab government of Sudan in Darfur, or the human rights abuses in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Åfghanistan,and several African states.
We in the Jewish peace movement championed by Tikkun, and we in the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, plead with our Muslim and Arab comrades and friends to denounce those who deny the Holocaust and who unfairly critique Israel. So it was with deep disappointment that we watched as representatives of many of these countries cheered Ahmadinejad's tirade rather than dismiss him as the racist demagogue that he is.
The great losers in this are the Palestinian people. The more that Jews are scared, the less likely they are to be true to their own religious and cultural history, largely one of support for the most oppressed. So the anti-racist conference that calls itself Durban II actually succeeded in strengthening the hold of the racists, and in the process has made continued Palestinian suffering all the more likely.
For those of us who believe that the God of all peoples wants all to be treated as equally valuable and as embodiments of God's image on earth, the failure of Muslims and Arab to disassociate themselves more publicly and forcefully is itself a problem that must be addressed with honesty and public confrontation, in a spirit of mutual respect and caring for each other. To do less would be to dishonor the God of the universe. We in the Jewish world who continually and publicly critique the misuse of Judaism to justify racist and repressive policies by the State of Israel have every right to demand a similar critique from our Arab Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters.
---Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine and Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives . If you want to help get this message out, feel free to put it on your own website, send it to everyone you know, or otherwise distribute and reprint this. Please help us continue to do this kind of messaging by joining as a paying member The Network of Spiritual Progressives (including atheists who are "spiritual but not religious"). www.spiritualprogressives.org
Comments and responses welcome to RabbiLerner@Tikkun.org (but an edited version of your response may be printed on our website or in Tikkun magazine)
[ Please read this in conjunction with the analysis above by Rabbi Michael Lerner. As with every effective demagogue, Ahmadinejad references legitimate anger at the role played by Western countries in the economically under-developed world in the past hundred and fifty years, the immoral aggression of the U.S. in Iraq, and the human rights abuses by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, and then uses that legitimate anger to lend plausibility to a hate-filled and wildly distorted history of the past century that sees Zionism as running the world--the kind of classic anti-Semitism that was so effectively used by Hitler to build support for his genocidal policies. No wonder that Israelis, who have heard this Iranian president talk about eliminating Israel from the community of nations, worries deeply about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons!]
President Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban Review Conference on racism The following is the speech of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durban Review Conference on racism in Geneva on April 20.
Mr. Chairman, honorable secretary general of the United Nations, honorable United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Ladies and gentleman: We have gathered in the follow-up to the Durban conference against racism and racial discrimination to work out practical mechanisms for our holy and humanitarian campaigns. Over the last centuries, humanity has gone through great sufferings and pains. In the Medieval Ages, thinkers and scientists were sentenced to death. It was then followed by a period of slavery and slave trade. Innocent people were taken captive in their millions and separated from their families and loved ones to be taken to Europe and America under the worst conditions. A dark period that also experienced occupation, lootings and massacres of innocent people. Many years passed by before nations rose up and fought for their liberty and freedom and they paid a high price for it. They lost millions of lives to expel the occupiers and establish independent and national governments. However, it did not take long before power grabbers imposed two wars in Europe which also plagued a part of Asia and Africa. Those horrific wars claimed about a hundred million lives and left behind massive devastation. Had lessons been learnt from the occupations, horrors and crimes of those wars, there would have been a ray of hope for the future. The victorious powers called themselves the conquerors of the world while ignoring or down treading upon rights of other nations by the imposition of oppressive laws and international arrangements. Ladies and gentlemen, let us take a look at the UN Security Council which is one of the legacies of World War I and World War II. What was the logic behind their granting themselves the veto right? How can such logic comply with humanitarian or spiritual values? Would it not be inconformity with the recognized principles of justice, equality before the law, love and human dignity? Would it not be discrimination, injustice, violations of human rights or humiliation of the majority of nations and countries? The council is the highest decision-making world body for safeguarding international peace and security. How can we expect the realization of justice and peace when discrimination is legalized and the origin of the law is dominated by coercion and force rather than by justice and the rights? Coercion and arrogance is the origin of oppression and wars. Although today many proponents of racism condemn racial discrimination in their words and their slogans, a number of powerful countries have been authorized to decide for other nations based on their own interests and at their own discretion and they can easily violate all laws and humanitarian values as they have done so. Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering and they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine. And, in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine. The Security Council helped stabilize the occupying regime and supported it in the past 60 years giving them a free hand to commit all sorts of atrocities. It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defending those racist perpetrators of genocide while the awakened-conscience and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutalities and the bombardment of civilians in Gaza. The supporters of Israel have always been either supportive or silent against the crimes. Dear friends, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. What are the root causes of the US attacks against Iraq or the invasion of Afghanistan? Was the motive behind the invasion of Iraq anything other than the arrogance of the then US administration and the mounting pressures on the part of the possessors of wealth and power to expand their sphere of influence seeking the interests of giant arms manufacturing companies affecting a noble culture with thousands of years of historical background, eliminating the potential and practical threats of Muslim countries against the Zionist regime or to control and plunder the energy resources of the Iraqi people? Why, indeed, almost a million people were killed and injured and a few more millions were displaced? Why, indeed, the Iraqi people have suffered enormous losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars? And why was billions of dollars imposed on the American people as the result of these military actions? 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? Did the invasion of Afghanistan restore peace, security and economic wellbeing in the country? The United States and its allies not only have failed to contain the production of drugs in Afghanistan, but the cultivation of narcotics has multiplied in the course of their presence. The basic question is that what was the responsibility and the job of the then US administration and its allies? Did they represent the countries of the world? Have they been mandated by them? Have they been authorized by the people of the world to interfere in all parts of the globe, of course mostly in our region? Are not these measures a clear example of egocentrism, racism, discrimination or infringement upon the dignity and independence of nations? Ladies and gentlemen, who is responsible for the current global economic crisis? Where did the crisis start from? From Africa, Asia or from the United States in the first place then spreading across Europe and their allies? For a long time, they imposed inequitable economic regulations by their political power on the international economy. They imposed a financial and monetary system without a proper international oversight mechanism on nations and governments that played no role in repressive trends or policies. They have not even allowed their people to oversea or monitor their financial policies. They introduced all laws and regulations in defiance of all moral values only to protect the interests of the possessors of wealth and power.They further presented a definition for market economy and competition that denied many of the economic opportunities that could be available to other countries of the world. They even transferred their problems to others while the waves of crisis lashed back plaguing their economies with thousands of billions of dollars in budget deficit. And today, they are injecting hundreds of billions of dollars of cash from the pockets of their own people and other nations into the failing banks, companies and financial institutions making the situation more and more complicated for their economy and their people. They are simply thinking about maintaining power and wealth. They could not care any less about the people of the world and even their own people. Mr. President, Ladies and gentlemen, Racism is rooted in the lack of knowledge concerning the root of human existence as the selected creature of God. It is also the product of his deviation from the true path of human life and the obligations of mankind in the world of creation, failing to consciously worship God, not being able to think about the philosophy of life or the path to perfection that are the main ingredients of divine and humanitarian values which have restricted the horizon of human outlook making transient and limited interests, the yardstick for his action. That is why evil's power took shape and expanded its realm of power while depriving others from enjoying equitable and just opportunities of development. The result has been the making of an unbridled racism that is posing the most serious threats against international peace and has hindered the way for building peaceful coexistence in the entire world. Undoubtedly, racism is the symbol of ignorance which has deep roots in history and it is, indeed, the sign of frustration in the development of human society. It is, therefore, crucially important to trace the manifestations of racism in situations or in societies where ignorance or lack of knowledge prevails. This increasing general awareness and understanding towards the philosophy of human existence is the principle struggle against such manifestations, and reveals the truth that human kind centers on the creation of the universe and the key to solving the problem of racism is a return to spiritual and moral values and finally the inclination to worship God Almighty. The international community must initiate collective moves to raise awareness in afflicted societies where ignorance of racism still prevails so as to bring to a halt the spread of these malicious manifestations. Dear Friends, today, the human community is facing a kind of racism which has tarnished the image of humanity in the beginning of the third millennium. World Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religions and abuses religious sentiments to hide its hatred and ugly face. However, it is of great importance to bring into focus the political goals of some of the world powers and those who control huge economic resources and interests in the world. They 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. This is not simply a question of ignorance and one cannot conclude these ugly phenomena through consular campaigns. Efforts must be made to put an end to the abuse by Zionists and their political and international supporters and in respect with the will and aspirations of nations. Governments must be encouraged and supported in their fights aimed at eradicating this barbaric racism and to move towards reform in current international mechanisms. There is no doubt that you are all aware of the conspiracies of some powers and Zionist circles against the goals and objectives of this conference. Unfortunately, there have been literatures and statements in support of Zionists and their crimes. And it is the responsibility of honorable representatives of nations to disclose these campaigns which run counter to humanitarian values and principles. It should be recognized that boycotting such a session as an outstanding international capacity is a true indication of supporting the blatant example of racism. In defending human rights, it is primarily important to defend the rights of all nations to participate equally in all important international decision making processes without the influence of certain world powers. And secondly, it is necessary to restructure the existing international organizations and their respective arrangements. Therefore this conference is a testing ground and the world public opinion today and tomorrow will judge our decisions and our actions. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is going through rapid fundamental changes. Power relations have become weak and fragile. The sound of cracks in the pillars of world systems can now be heard. Major political and economic structures are on the brink of collapse. Political and security crises are on the rise. The worsening crisis in the world economy for which there can be seen no bright prospect, demonstrates the rising tide of far-reaching global changes. I have repeatedly emphasized the need to change the wrong direction through which the world is being managed today and I have also warned of the dire consequences of any delay in this crucial responsibility. Now in this valuable event, I would like to announce to all leaders, thinkers and to all nations of the world present in this meeting and those who have a hunger for peace and economic well-being that the unjust economic management of the world is now at the end of the road. This deadlock was inevitable since the logic of this imposed management was oppressive. The logic of collective management of world affairs is based on noble aspirations which centers on human beings and the supremacy of the almighty God. Therefore it defies any policy or plan which goes against the influence of nations. The victory of right over wrong and the establishment of a just world system has been promised by the Almighty God and his messengers and it has been a shared goal of all human beings from different societies and generations in the course of history. Realization of such a future depends on the knowledge of creation and the belief of the faithful.
The making of a global society is in fact the accomplishment of a noble goal held in the establishment of a common global system that will be run with the participation of all nations of the world in all major decision making processes and the definite root to this sublime goal. Scientific and technical capacities as well as communication technology have created a common and widespread understanding of the world society and has provided the necessary ground for a common system. Now it is upon all intellectuals, thinkers and policy makers in the world to carry out their historical responsibility with a firm belief in this definite root. I also want to lay emphasis on the fact that Western liberalism and capitalism has reached its end since it has failed to perceive the truth of the world and humans as they are. It has imposed its own goals and directions on human beings. There is no regard for human and divine values, justice, freedom, love and brotherhood and it has based living on intense competition, securing individual and cooperative material interest. Now we must learn from the past by initiating collective efforts in dealing with present challenges and in this connection, and as a closing remark, I wish to draw your kind attention to two important issues: Firstly, it is absolutely possible to improve the existing situation in the world. However it must be noted that this could be only achieved through the cooperation of all countries in order to get the best out of the existing capacities and resources in the world. My participation in this conference is because of my conviction to these important issues as well as to our common responsibility of defending the rights of nations vis-à-vis the sinister phenomena of racism and being with you, the thinkers of the world. Secondly, mindful of the inefficiency of the current international political, economic and security systems, it is necessary to focus on divine and humanitarian values by referring to the true definition of human beings based upon justice and respect for the rights of all people in all parts of the world and by acknowledging the past wrong doings in the past dominant management of the world, and to undertake collective measures to reform the existing structures. In this respect, it is crucially important to rapidly reform the structure of the Security Council, including the elimination of the discriminatory veto right and to change the current world financial and monetary systems. It is evident that lack of understanding of the urgency for change is equivalent to the much heavier costs of delay. Dear Friends, beware that to move in the direction of justice and human dignity is like a rapid flow in the current of a river. Let us not forget the essence of love and affection. The promised future of human beings is a great asset that may serve our purposes in keeping together to build a new world. In order to make the world a better place full of love and blessings, a world devoid of poverty and hatred, merging the increasing blessings of God Almighty and the righteous managing of the perfect human being, let us all join hands in friendship in the fulfillment of such a new world. I thank you Mr. President, Secretary General and all distinguished participants for having the patience to listen to me. Thank you very much.