To be pro-Ahmadinejad is to be anti-peace

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-3-10

History is dynamic, not predetermined. There are crossroads in the life of nations, and 2010 could be such a moment for Iran. With the international community looking weakened and the rule of international law being mocked, this could be the year the Iranian nuclear project passes its point of no return, and this ugly repressive regime is strengthened. Alternatively, in 2010 the Green Movement of Iranian students and dissidents could save the world – and the Iranian people – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s grip. People of conscience throughout the world cannot stand by. We can make a difference, we must make a difference.

That was the theme of an extraordinary press breakfast held at the King David Hotel in the final days of 2009, just short of US President Barack Obama’s deadline for the Iranian mullahocracy. Professor Irwin Cotler, the human rights champion, Canadian Parliamentarian and former justice minister and attorney general, presented his “Responsibility to Prevent” petition demanding the international community fulfill its legally mandated responsibility and punish Ahmadinejad’s Iran for inciting to genocide, sponsoring state terrorism, illegally pursuing atomic weapons, and oppressing its own people. Cotler denounced the “culture of impunity,” whereby Iran has defied international law. He said Iran presents “a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to Middle East stability, as well as to its own people” – and must be sanctioned.

An impressive array of human rights activists and jurists reinforced Professor Cotler’s detailed, tightly-reasoned legal plea. Professor Suzanne Last Stone of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law noted this was “not a policy matter, but a legal obligation.” The countries of the world have signed treaties obligating them to act against these crimes with “specific remedies.” Calling in from Boston at 2 a.m., Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School emphasized that “The crime has already been committed,” saying “This it the time, this is the moment, this is the true test” for the international community. “History will judge us all,” Professor Dershowitz warned, if we are silent, and thus “complicit in this evil.”

Bassem Eid, the executive director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, offered another dimension, warning that Iran pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into Hamas, trying to fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and undermining the PA. Keeping the Middle East “unstable” plays into the mullahs’ hands, Eid noted. He said he had not heard “any clear statement from the international community in terms of supporting the opposition and putting pressure on Ahmadinejad’s Iran.”

While Professor Cotler and his colleagues focused on international law and leaders, students and grassroots activists have a crucial role to play now. The silence of campus activists and the broader human rights community in the face of Iranian crimes has been deafening. The student heroes of Iran must know that students throughout the world are protesting for them, supporting them. Yes, appeasers will caution that too much support from the West will enable the Iranian regime to claim the dissidents are Western dupes. The Iranian autocrats are making that charge anyway, shouldn’t we at least show the Iranian heroes they are not alone, that the rape, torture, murder and beating they endure are not being ignored and will not be forgotten?

As students return from their holidays, the fight to support the Green Movement in Iran should be the top item on the student activist agenda. Rallies should spread from the universities to the capital cities, attracting more media coverage, stoking more popular outrage, demanding more international action, especially sanctions. Politicians will run for cover if they can – they will act when they cannot.

The pro-Iranian movement – and that’s what it is when it opposes Ahmadinejad’s Iran – should focus on effective pressure points. Germany should be a particular target, given the billions of dollars in business Germany conducts with Iran annually. The country responsible for the 20th century’s most horrific genocide should do what it can to derail the country so far most brazenly promising to enact a genocide in the 21st century – especially given that Jews were the target then, and now. Iranian diplomats throughout the world should be shouted down, shamed in public, targeted – in nonviolent, creative ways, of course – for representing this despicable regime. And every government in the world today must be held accountable for its inaction in fighting this evil. President Barack Obama in particular must hear from the young Americans who idolize him that his “Yes We Can” message must resonate more loudly, clearly, pointedly, and yes, aggressively in Teheran.

While the pro-Israel student community should forge broad alliances against Ahmadinejad, campus Zionists should focus their activities on Iran in the next few weeks, building up to the annual anti-Israel week during which the democratic state of Israel is falsely compared to South Africa’s abhorrent Apartheid regime. Maybe this is the year to ignore the anti-Israel activities that week by simply beefing up the push against Ahmadinejad.

Let us draw a clear line in the sand for the hypocrites of today who purport to love human rights. Invite them to join up against Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Either they do, and we have common cause in a pressing concern – or they don’t and we see where they stand on human rights, and, if we follow Bassem Eid’s analysis, on seeking real attempts to bring peace to the Middle East. Being pro-Ahmainejad is essentially being anti-peace.

And let us not be ashamed to stand as pro-Israel Jews against Ahmadinejad’s Iran. When asked at the breakfast if all the petition-signers were Jews – they are not and include distinguished Arab and Muslim leaders – Denis MacShane, the British parliamentarian calling in from the UK, bristled. MacShane said that increasingly, the so-called human rights community seeks to silence the Jewish voice on human rights issues. MacShane, who identified himself as a proud Catholic, encouraged Jews to stand as proud Jews on this defining human rights issue of our time.

A poignant plea came from Vancouver, from Nazanin Afshin-Jam, “Miss World Canada 2003,” and the President of Stop Child Executions. “I thank you for hearing the cries of the Iranian people who are suffering under this oppressive reigme…,” she said. “The Iranian people need your help. They need the support of the international community.” How dare we ignore her – and their – pleas.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.