With the Obama administration and much of the organized Jewish community focused on the schizophrenic Palestinian bid for UN membership, a series of recent remarks by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seem to have largely slipped under the radar.
"Iran believes that whoever is for humanity should also be for eradicating the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad said in an August 26 interview according to the Iranian Student News Agency. The following day, in a Tehran speech in support of the Palestinian cause, he again advocated what amounts to genocide. "Do not think that your existence will be recognized with the recognition of the Palestinian state," he threatened the State of Israel. "You have no place in our region and among our nations, and you will not be able to continue your ignominious life on even a small part of the Palestinian territories."
And while unctuously offering to "arrange for the release" of two American hikers jailed in Iran for the past two years on bogus espionage charges, Ahmadinejad shamelessly resurrected the old anti-Semitic stereotypes that make Jews the scapegoat for every evil, plague and natural disaster on the face of the earth. Zionists, Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth on September 13, were "behind the First World War and the Second World War."
"Whenever there is a conflict or war," he said, without contradiction on the part of the interviewer or in the published transcript, Zionists -- read: Jews -- are "behind it."
Ahmadinejad should have been held to account under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide long ago.
The crime of genocide, in the words of the UN General Assembly Resolution 96(I) "is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings," and Ahmadinejad's intent "to destroy ... a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" thus falls squarely within the scope of the Convention.
Moreover, "Direct and public incitement to commit genocide" is also a direct violation of Genocide Convention to which, incidentally, Iran is a party. Repeatedly dismissing the Holocaust as a "myth" and a "lie" invented to justify the creation of the State of Israel, Ahmadinejad has been advocating for years that Israel and its Jewish citizens should be annihilated. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel succinctly said after yet another of the Iranian leader's diatribes, Ahmadinejad "preaches hatred and therefore he should be in jail actually, in The Hague, for incitement of genocide. That is a crime against humanity."
Along the same lines, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wrote in an op-ed as far back as September of 2007 that since Ahmadinejad "calls for the elimination of a nation and pursues the means that would allow him to carry it out ... he should be indicted under the Genocide Convention."
Romney deserves credit for pointing out repeatedly and consistently over the years that Ahmadinejad's "regime threatens not only Israel, but also every other nation in the region, and ultimately the world. It is a repressive regime... an intractable enemy of liberty and human rights ... the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and subversive war."
It would be foolish in the extreme for any of us to lose sight of the fact that Ahmadinejad's continued saber-rattling constitutes a far greater time-bomb than anything that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian leader says or does.
Very specifically, we need to remember that incitement to commit mass murder has been recognized as a crime ever since the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg where Julius Streicher, the publisher of the virulously anti-Semitic newspaper, Der Stürmer, received the death sentence for his incendiary words. "Streicher's incitement to murder and extermination, at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions," the Tribunal held, "constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with War Crimes, as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a Crime against Humanity."
"According to the International Law Commission," the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda wrote fifty-two years later in its judgment against Jean-Paul Akayesu, a Hutu politician on trial for his role in the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi population, "public incitement is characterized by a call for criminal action to a number of individuals in a public place or to members of the general public at large by such means as the mass media, for example radio or television."
Placing Ahmadinejad's words in this context is not an idle academic exercise. He does not miss an opportunity to publicly call for the destruction of Israel by violent means, which per force means the mass killing of its citizens. He focuses his vitriol exclusively on Israel's Zionist -- that is Jewish -- population. It is critical that the international community be made to acknowledge once and for all that such genocidal rhetoric cannot be allowed to be continuously ignored and swept under the rug.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School, and Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law.