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The Peoples Forum: Iran's anti-Semitism oped by Teresa Heinz Kerry

The Peoples Forum

No Time for Soft Talk on Anti-Semitism
by Teresa Heinz Kerry


Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now joined the ranks of the Holocaust deniers. In calling, as he did on Wednesday, the Holocaust “a myth,” he drinks from the bloody cup shared by the malevolent enemies of equality and justice– the skinheads, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, and the ultra right-wingers and haters who live in history’s shadows. Need it be said, again? The gas chambers, the bureaucratic system of murder, the efforts to sever an entire people from their place in this world did happen, did exist, and remains a unifying cause for those who choose justice, now and forever more.

Iran’s president is no stranger to hate speech. Just weeks ago, in an October 28th address to a conference titled “The World without Zionism,” he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” His serial efforts to bash Jews and Israel are all the more worrisome as Iran races to join the club of nuclear nations.

This latest outburst gives the Bush Administration a second opportunity to send a strong message in support of Israel and the global community and to make a clear statement against bigotry and hatred. This time, President George Bush should not let that moment pass.

As with President Ahmadinejad’s latest round of hateful words, the October denigration of an important ally and close friend of America was an outrage. But so was the tepid American response. The Bush Administration – which so often answers challenges with confrontational language – took this occasion to whisper. With the exception of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, who denounced the remarks as “pernicious and unacceptable,” the Bush Administration explained those comments as if they had been uttered by a crazy relative, then returned to its talking points on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted widespread condemnation of the remarks, but did not offer condemnation of her own: “When the president of one country says that another country should be wiped off the face of the map in violation of all of the norms of the United Nations…it has to be taken seriously… there has been widespread condemnation of this statement and it only demonstrates why we're working so hard to keep Iran from getting technologies that would lead to a nuclear weapon.”

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack anemically noted that Ahmadinejad’s statement “reconfirms what we have been saying…and I think it underscores our concern as well as the international community's concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

President Bush’s press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters matter-of-factly that: “Many leaders in the international community have spoken out about the comments that were made.”

But, President Bush was not among them. Not a single word of disapproval passed the President’s lips.

The lesson of the last century and more is clear: Acts of hatred often follow words of hatred, and the best way to head off hideous deeds is to respond swiftly and with certainty. Instead of explaining Iran’s behavior away, or scoring minor tactical points, it is time to let the anti-Semites know that Americans will not tolerate their calls for violence or especially grievous insults to history.

Let me explain my outrage. I grew up under a dictatorship, in Mozambique. Grown-ups could not speak out against the repression and injustice that surrounded us. But, since leaving, I have demonstrated and marched against tyranny and hate.

I began my formal work against anti-Semitism in 1977, when I joined with the Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry -- a group I would later co-chair. It was an honor to meet and stand with Refuseniks like Ida Nudel, Judith Rattner, Vladimir Slepak, Natan Sharansky and so many others. I visited Russia many times and met with people who had been systematically and sometimes brutally repressed. I learned from them that when we say “never again,” we have to mean it.

Chief Rabbi Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregation in the UK compares anti-Semitism to a virus, surviving through millennia by mutating: religious anti-Judaism into racial anti-Semitism, and now anti-Semitism morphing into anti-Zionism. Whatever the rationalization its adherents hide behind, though, anti-Semitism always has at its heart the same things: bigotry and hate and fear.

The only way to prevent the virus from surviving and spreading is to attack, killing it with the strongest possible condemnations before it has a chance to mutate and spread.

In October, President Bush missed a chance to do that. Now he has a second chance to speak out. I hope he will take it.

It is time for Iran to be confronted by a unified, outraged and out-spoken Bush Administration, an administration that feels and dispenses the cleansing heat that such virulent words deserve.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is the wife of U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad