Americans, Jews and Iran

BY RABBI JEFFREY STIFFMAN

As American Jews we pride ourselves on the similarity of American ideals and Jewish values. We have worked together, and we have sometimes faced danger together. This certainly is such a time. For we face an enemy who promises to eliminate those he hates — Israel, the Jewish people and the United States.

The particular focus of the poisonous words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Israel.

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He speaks openly of destroying not only Israel, but also Jewish organizations in every nation. Iran has already used its oil revenues to support terrorist groups throughout the world. It supplies them with the latest weaponry. We only have to remember the missiles rained upon Israel by Hezbollah, an Iranian client.

The Argentinean government found that the bombing of the Jewish Community Headquarters in Buenos Aires was carried out by the same Hezbollah. Groups funded and supported by Iran have caused death and destruction throughout the world, and we are the prime target.

The words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, honored guest at the United Nations, are clear.

Recently he declared that “Israel’s days are numbered. The peoples of the region would not miss the narrowest of opportunity to annihilate this false regime.” For Jews, these words and the threats by Iran’s President resonate with our worst memories.

We remember when the world stood by while Hitler systematically announced his intention to exterminate us.

Why do so many nations insist that he doesn’t mean what he is saying? Is history repeating itself?

We are told that he is a “little man in a little country,” an “unpopular politician who is trying to save his job by lashing out at Israel.”

But we remember our history — how what was insisted to be “just words” turned into the destruction of six million of our people. So we take him very seriously.

The United Nations could take action, based upon the words of Ahmadinejad and the actions of his government. The evidence is overwhelming.

Iranian state Holocaust denial is a keynote of this regime. Ahmadinejad watches over the parading of Shihab-3 missiles emblazoned with the words “wipe Israel off the map.” At the same time he exhorts Iranians in the streets of Tehran to call out “death to Israel.” Demonization of the United States and other Western countries is also common.

Professor Irwin Cotler, a Canadian Member of Parliament and a distinguished professor of international law has campaigned vigorously to call attention to Ahmadinejad’s incitement to commit genocide.

Article Three of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December of 1948 defines incitement to genocide as a crime. Cotler cites as legal precedent for charging Ahmadinejad with incitement to genocide the conviction of Rwandan Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu.

Akayesu was found guilty of incitement of genocide (among other crimes) and sentenced to life in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Professor Cotler and many who study the prevention of genocide believe that acts such as incitement that surface before a conflict begins are the early warning signs of genocide.

There are those who would say that barring Ahmadinejad from speaking at the United Nations or at other venues is at conflict with the basic right to freedom of speech.

To the contrary, there are examples from the Nuremburg trials and numerous international conventions that recognize that sometimes in order to defend basic human rights, freedom of speech may be limited.

I think of the words of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, who lamented the Rwandan genocide on its tenth anniversary. He said, “We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenseless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago. Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So, what can we do?”

We American Jews have been witness to too many of these lamentations. We must work so that such “too-late tears” will never be shed for our people again.

We should speak out in every forum available to us –talk shows, letters to the editor, and discussions with family, friends and neighbors.

We should contact the campaign offices of both Presidential candidates and thank them for noting the seriousness of this issue. We must press our representatives, congressmen, senators and executives at every level of government to fight this evil and to condemn genocidal speech as well as action.

We add to our personal concern the threat to world peace implicit in Iran’s nuclear program. And we identify with the citizens of Iran, who are denied their basic rights.

Members of the St. Louis Jewish community continue to speak out through the Jewish Community Relations Council Iran Task Force which includes representatives of our Jewish Federation, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, Missouri/Southern Illinois, Chabad on Campus, the Jewish Community Center, St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah and St. Louis Hillel.

We hope that Americans of all faiths will join together in support of our government’s efforts to prevent the horrible fulfillment of Iran’s threats.

Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth, is chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council Iran Task Force.