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.

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Gil Troy: Israeli 6th graders learn hope, not hate

Center Field: Israeli 6th graders learn hope, not hate

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-30-09

On Monday, just before Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, and shortly after I returned from the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, I was invited to talk about Durban to my son’s 6th grade class in Jerusalem. He attends a Dati-Mamlachti, religious public school, Efrata, in Baka. I have spoken to elementary school classes at various Jewish day schools in Montreal over the years, so I have some sense of what kids this age know and don’t know about current events, and about Israel. What shocked me – and then in many ways impressed me – (beyond their excellent, polite behavior throughout the class) was how shocked so many of the sixth graders in Jerusalem were by the depth of anti-Israel hatred on display at the Durban II conference.

I began simply by playing a four-minute clip from the Israeli news show “Mabat” on Monday April 20, the day Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened the Durban Review Conference in Geneva. The kids were understandably confused by the spectacle: someone treated with great honor saying hateful things about their own state; students dressed in multicolored clown wigs throwing red noses at the speaker; dark-suited European diplomats walking out en masse.

After the clip I explained to the students that I showed the clip with no explanation and no context, because that is what happens when we watch the news daily. We get plunged into these events as veritable eyewitnesses, often lacking a bigger picture understanding. I then started unraveling the spool, using slides to tell the story of the anti-racist conference headlined by a racist, the UN conference against discrimination that has become a symbol of discrimination against Jews.

“I don’t understand, what do they mean Zionism is Nazism?” one girl asked when I showed a Durban I poster from 2001 equating the Jewish star with the Swastika attacking “Nazionism.” “Why are they applauding Ahmadinejad?” another wondered.

This, to me, was the morning’s big revelation. Many of the students could not fathom that anyone could link anything Jewish or Israeli with anything Nazi. Probing further, it was clear that most of the students were less aware of the world’s enmity than their peers were in Montreal. I realized the blessed insulation of living in a Jewish state means that they do not see the barrage of anti-Israel criticism on television and in the newspapers Jewish kids experience in the Diaspora.

Moreover, it was clear that these kids were not being taught to hate. And note they study in the National Religious system often caricatured by critics as fomenting intolerance. By not being aware of Palestinians’ demonization of Israel, they were far less likely to demonize Palestinians.

The Yom Hazikaron Remembrance Day ceremonies at school on Tuesday reinforced this impression. The commemoration was sad but focused on the murdered not the murderers. In the spirit of the day, which precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, the principal ended the ceremony by talking about hopes, dreams, pride in Israel’s accomplishments and the happiness that follows the sadness. Again, not a word of hatred, demonization, or even anger, the logical emotion when contemplating so many young deaths. I only wish Palestinian parents could report that their children were not being raised on vitriol.

As my slide show continued, the questions increased.

“Why did the UN honor Ahmadinejad as the first speaker at the conference?” the teacher asked – the question I have been asked most frequently since my return, and the question Elie Wiesel asked on Yom HaShoah, on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Geneva. I explained that Ahmadinejad exploited UN protocol. The embarrassed Europeans downgraded the conference because of the controversies and most countries sent junior ministers to Geneva. Ahmadinejad was the only head of state to attend, thus earning the first speaker’s slot. I noted that the embarrassment was good. It showed that Durban I’s critics had made an impact and some countries still had a sense of shame.

“Why does the Swiss President look so happy meeting Ahmadinejad?” a student asked when I showed the picture of a beaming Hans-Rudolf Merz greeting Ahmadinejad. This absurdity required an explanation of the passive complicity of the enabler rather than the active crimes of the deviant. I said the Swiss President could have snubbed Ahmadinejad as America’s president does when unsavory characters visit the UN. He also could have greeted Ahmadinejad coldly. The effusive welcome reflected the weakness of the diplomat, the cowardice of too many Europeans, who let evil flourish by being polite and doing nothing.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, gestures as he talks with Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, left, shortly after arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, Sunday, April 19, 2009 PHOTO: AP

“Why did the students dress up like clowns and throw red noses?” another student asked. I repeated the French students’ explanation, that Ahmadinejad and the anti-Zionists’ racism had turned the anti-racist conference into a circus, so they might as well dress appropriately. The students appreciated that logic – although I challenged them to consult with each other and their teachers, rabbis, and parents about what is the appropriate behavior when faced with evil and the politeness that enables it. I noted I was proud that none of the Jewish students behaved violently or aggressively. They were disciplined, clever, strategic and quite limited in their actions.

A demonstrator dressed as a clown gestures from the media tribune against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speech during the opening of the Durban Review Conference (UN’s Conference against Racism) at the European headquarters of the United Nations, UN, in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, April 20, 2009 PHOTO: AP

“How come only Jewish students are standing with the Darfuri refugees?” some asked when I showed a picture of Darfuris and Jewish students in front of the UN, protesting the UN’s silence about Sudan’s genocide. “Why doesn’t the UN help?” others asked when I told them about the many human rights activists and victims from Darfur, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Rwanda frustrated that the UN’s anti-Zionist obsession derailed attempts to stop human rights abuses. To these pertinent, depressing questions, I had no adequate answers.

Gil Troy: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

Center Field: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

“The UN really is a beautiful thing,” I thought as I waited to pass through security at UN headquarters in Geneva. I was standing in a living, breathing poster for multiculturalism, amid delegates of different colors, from different cultures, representing different countries. My reverie was interrupted when the security guards pulled aside one delegate just ahead of me from an Arab country. Emblazoned on the folder he used to carry his papers was the slogan ZIONISM IS RACISM, with a swastika added for good measure.

This, alas, is the reality of the modern UN. The great betrayal comes from hijacking noble ideals as a masquerade to obscure harsh hatred.

Casually walking around with a ‘Zionism is Racism’ folder reflects an identity of negation, built around hate, rather than around something positive. This is modern Palestinian nationalism’s great tragedy – and crime.

Indulging the desire for destruction rather than seeking something constructive curdles the national soul – and prevents compromise. The result is the movement’s pornographic commitment to violence – for effect – and an ugliness so toxic and, surprisingly, so epidemic, it poisons noble gatherings including this Durban Conference. The admirable desire to fight racism, xenophobia, and discrimination becomes derailed. Underlying the perversion is a refusal to understand that rights begin with mutual recognition of rights for ourselves and for others, for those we like and those we don’t.

While the UN is world headquarters for producing this one-sided farce, many of Israel’s enemies are too honest to stick to the script. Just as Hamas failed to learn Yasser Arafat’s lessons about lying to the world and keeps its anti-Semitic charter calling for Israel’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance on the first day of the Durban Review conference shows the modern UN’s perversity. Yesterday, at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy we learned that Iran’s commitment to fighting discrimination includes the death penalty for homosexuals and torture for dissidents, let alone the fact that Ahmadinejad has endorsed the destruction of two member states of the United Nations, Israel and the United States. Today, we had a chance to see Ahmadinejad in action.

Like all good demagogues, Ahmadinejad is clever. He knows how to work his audience. He guaranteed himself top coverage and a first spot in the speakers’ rostrum, ahead of a clump of deputy ministers and foreign ministers. No other head of state spoke today. He brought star power – and excitement – into otherwise tedious proceedings. Moreover, he fed the crowd red meat. He started by invoking the prophets, including Abraham, Jesus – and the final one – Mohammed. He earned applause from the General Assembly delegates by denouncing the Security Council as an imperialist carryover from World War II. More broadly, he blamed America, capitalism, and (if you listened carefully) liberal values for today’s economic crisis.

Of course, his speech centered on calling Zionism the personification of racism. Ahmadinejad’s speech can be studied as a classic anti-Semitic specimen, attributing to Jews (although he uses the word Zionism) disproportionate power and importance, adding a dash of Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad blamed “the Zionist regime” for the Iraq war, among other crimes. He clearly believed that the conference against racism would fail unless it assailed the Jewish state – and broader Western ideals of liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

Although the conference president thanked Ahmadinejad for his sentiments, the next speaker, Norway’s foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store repudiated the Iranian’s remarks. Store said Ahmadinejad expressed himself “in a way that threatens the very purpose of this conference…. Freedom of speech yes,” Store said, “but incitement of hatred, no.” Ahmadinejad’s speech, Store said, “runs counter to the very spirit and dignity of this conference.” Even more important than Store’s words were his – and his European Union colleagues’ — actions. As soon as Ahmadinejad claimed the European powers used “the pretext” of Jewish suffering to establish a Jewish state, dozens of EU delegates walked out. I remained disappointed that their countries did not boycott the conference. But the delegates did something tremendous. I never thought a parade of (mostly) men in (mostly) dark, pin-striped suits could be so moving. If only they were willing to demand the UN stick to its ideals regularly…

Gil Troy: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

Center Field: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-19-09

DURBAN DIARY

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Geneva is awash in the light green of early spring, nestled amid snowcapped mountains. Arriving from Israel, I found the city’s tranquility surprising, until I remembered this was Sunday morning, not Monday. Still, the quiet set the tone for this first day, on the eve of what promises to be a tumultuous United Nations Review Conference on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and

Intolerance beginning Monday (the UN shifted from Durban to Geneva hoping to avoid the riotous anti-Semitic atmosphere of Durban, 2001).

Entering the city, I passed the Intercontinental Hotel, where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is staying before addressing the conference Monday. Many Swiss citizens are urging their president not to shake Ahmadinejad’s hand. “But,” my taxi driver shrugged, “protocols must be followed.”

What a perfect welcome to Europe – and to the UN’s moral myopia. By cherishing protocols more than human rights, the world enables dictators. Despite advocating Israel’s and America’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be welcomed like a head of state, rather than the genocide-seeking rogue he is.

Fortunately, twenty human rights NGOs hosted a “Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy,” or what I call the “Anti-Racism Conference as It Should Have Been.”

Offering a mirror image of the Durban Review conference leadership, many of the speakers suffered repression thanks to the leaders of today’s UN Human Rights Council. The 22 speakers from Iran, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, along with the hundreds of attendees, rejected the toxic combination of European politesse and dictatorial manipulation perpetuating what one speaker called the “coalition of autocrats around the world.”

That speaker, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, imprisoned in Egypt for three years, said that having Libya lead the human rights council made a mockery of human rights. He also denounced “the indifference of the democrats,” regretting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vow that human rights issues would not sour American relations with the Chinese. “When people no longer denounce injustice … we are giving an oxygen boost to dictators so they can continue to trample on people’s rights,” Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, a Cuban activist warned.

In the emotional opening session, victims of the Darfur and Rwanda genocides moved delegates to tears, by describing the evil they endured. Dominique Sopo, the President of SOS Racisme, condemned the Durban Review conference’s “negationism,” ignoring real the human rights crimes. “It is unbelievable that Darfur is not on the agenda,” Sopo insisted. “What is the point of having a conference against racism if this is ignored?” Contrasting the UN’s passivity with the opening panelists’ activist idealism, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler thanked the dissidents for “inspiring us to act and do that which needs to be done.”

Celebrating sixty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, sessions examined the declaration’s various articles. This afternoon’s session examined Article 5, the “right to be free from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment.” Parvez Sharma described “Jihad for Love,” his film describing the discrimination endured by Islamic homosexuals. Ahmed Batebi, a dissident imprisoned in Iran for nine years, recounted how he was thrown in solitary confinement on flimsy legal grounds. He recalled: threats, mock executions, brutalization of friends, and how “they tied my hands to a chair and kept me awake until I lost consciousness, then cut me and poured salt in my wounds to wake me up.” This cruelty, he explained, “is an attempt to crush the spirits” of anyone who criticizes Iran’s regime.

Finally, Dr. Ashraf El Hagog, a Palestinian doctor, and Kristina Valcheva, a Bulgarian nurse, described how Libya falsely accused them of spreading HIV, then tortured them with beatings, electrical currents, and sexual sadism. “It’s disgusting” that Libya is chairing the UN human rights council, Dr. El Hahog shouted, “SHAME ON YOU LIBYA.” Noting that a Jew was one of the first people to help him get out of prison, Dr. El Hagog admitted that he had been imprisoned in his own ideology, and now regretted his bigotry.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident begged. Once, that slogan was the UN’s watchword. Today, the sentiment challenges UN protocols.

We owe it to these democratic heroes to do what we can to use our liberty to promote theirs – while pushing the UN to fulfill its historic mission. Meanwhile, we buckle our seatbelts for the farce that Ahmadinejad and his fellow dictators will launch tomorrow.

Playing the partisan

By  Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-23-08

A JPost.com exclusive blog

Clinton addresses the...

Senator Hillary Clinton’s refusal to attend the major rally called for Monday September 22 in New York against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN appearance is outrageous – as is the organizers’ subsequent decision to disinvite Sarah Palin.

Back in August, Senator Clinton had agreed to attend. She abruptly pulled out this week because the Republican nominee Sarah Palin also agreed to appear. This move suggests that Senator Clinton hates Governor Palin and the Republicans more than she hates Iran’s Ahmadinejad, despite his sexism, homophobia and advocacy of genocide.

The explanation Senator Clinton’s office gave for the shift was petulant and ignorant. Apparently, Clinton felt blindsided by news of Palin’s appearance. Palin’s “attendance was news to us, and this was never billed to us as a partisan political event,” Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, told the New York Times. “Senator Clinton will therefore not be attending.” Upset by the controversy, a day later the organizers declared that no elected officials would attend, to keep the event “nonpartisan.”

But as Senators John McCain and Barack Obama showed in their joint appearance on September 11, sometimes political rivals have to stop opposing each other, even during election season. Imagine how powerful a message the American people would have sent to Iran had their two leading women politicians stood together during the presidential campaign against Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear-hungry mullahocracy.

Of course, Palin’s planned appearance was not simply altruistic and of course it had partisan aims. Politicians never stop prospecting for votes, especially during tough elections. And Palin’s willingness to protest against Ahmadinejad was part of her quest for legitimacy in foreign policy as well as a play for Jewish votes.

Hillary Clinton’s initial decision to attend the rally also was partisan as was her decision to boycott this important round in the popular fight against Iran. It is not surprising that Clinton recoiled at the thought of helping Palin’s quest in any way, but it is disappointing that Clinton succumbed to those feelings, given the seriousness of the Iranian threat.

The organizers did not need the rally to be nonpartisan but bipartisan. A nonpartisan rally limits the guest list to apolitical people such as the writer Elie Wiesel, who is planning to lend his powerful moral voice to the effort. But the organizers initially understood that in the United States, power resides with partisan politicians.

The rally would have been most effective had it been bipartisan – with influential representatives from both sides of the aisle. It is surprising that Senator Clinton and then the organizers failed to understand that distinction between bipartisan and nonpartisan. It is also unrealistic for Senator Clinton to walk around pretending that Sarah Palin has not become America’s newest political superstar.

The comic sensation of the week is a skit from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler imitating Palin and Clinton, respectively. The skit imagines the two of them uniting to battle sexism. On Monday, life could have outdone art.

In fact, in addition to denouncing Ahmadinejad, Senator Hillary Clinton could have helped remind Americans of the many things that unite them, even during this campaign. Instead, Hillary Clinton played the partisan – and diminished her own moral standing in the process.