Historians often question how clear signals from people who are about to commit acts of barbarity could have been missed. The question now facing the world, said America’s outgoing United Nations ambassador, John Bolton, is whether the threats of Iran’s president constitute “one of those historic moments.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “has made statements denying the Holocaust and he has said Israel should be wiped off the map,” Bolton told a gathering of Jewish leaders and lawmakers here. “We can say it’s for domestic Iranian consumption to enhance his image in the region. We can hope that’s what it is.”
But Bolton noted that the Iranian government, which he called the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” is trying to develop nuclear weapons and is “not simply a regime that engages in hysterical rhetoric.”
“This is the kind of threat that one can look at with growing horror,” he said. “Iran feels time is on its side. It’s a rising power and influence in the world. The risk it faces with sanctions doesn’t give it pause. So taking seriously what he says is critical in our decision about what we are going to do about it.”
Organizers of the press conference had one solution in mind: bring Ahmadinejad up on charges of incitement to commit genocide as defined by the United Nations Charter. The meeting last week was held just a day after a two-day conference on the Holocaust in Tehran, convened by Ahmadinejad to bring together Holocaust deniers from throughout the world. Ahmadinejad, who has consistently denied the Holocaust, used the conference to repeat his threats against Israel.
“Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out,” he was quoted as saying. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the Teheran meeting “shocking beyond belief” and said it proved beyond any doubt the Iranian regime’s extremism.
The organizers of the meeting here, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, brought in some other prominent speakers in addition to Bolton, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Democratic New York Rep. Charles Rangel — incoming chair of the Ways and Means Committee — and former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.
“A peaceful resolution of this state of affairs is possible if the main bodies, judicial organs and specialized agencies of the U.N., the G-8, NATO, senior national political leaders, and prosecutors in various jurisdictions treat Ahmadinejad’s genocidal intimidation with the gravity it most certainly deserves,” according to a booklet that outlines Ahmadinejad’s crimes and how the world should react, short of war.
The booklet was prepared by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. “We want to give the international community a chance to respond without the need for force,” said Dershowitz. “But force may become necessary, and it is good when it prevents greater harm.”
He said, for example, that Winston Churchill “should have had a preventive war” against Nazi Germany when it violated the Versailles Treaty. And noting the threats Ahmadinejad has made against the United States, Dershowitz said that both the U.S. and Israel “have the right of inherent self-defense under Article 51.”
He said he, Cotler and others were working on drafting an indictment against Ahmadinejad that would be ready for submission to the UN’s International Criminal Court of Justice by Feb. 1.
But Ruth Wedgwood, a professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University, cautioned about the UN’s track record on Israel.
“Don’t be naïve about the UN,” she said. “Some remedies can hurt Israel. … The UN never put its muscle behind Israel after the partition plan” that led to Israel’s creation in 1948.
Former Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne contrasted conditions for Jews today when there is a State of Israel to what they were before the Holocaust. “We will not play the role of the victim [again],” he vowed. “In spite of statements from Europe and the UN, nothing has been done to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. … Why should he stop if there is no world reaction? There is no doubt his statements constitute the crime of genocide. His statements threatening Israel with annihilation threaten Israel and the Jewish people. No one since Hitler has threatened the Jewish people in this way.”
In answer to a question, Cotler said the prosecution of heads of state is permissible. He cited the prosecutions of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic as examples. “The law is clear,” he said.