Ahmadinejad’s calls for eliminating Israel

by Avi Bell

With all respect, I believe my summary of the substantive non-jurisdictional issues raised by the genocide claim was, while brief, quite complete, non-tendentious, and fully engaged in the substance.

I stated quite clearly that Ahmadinejad called for the elimination of the state of Israel. While I think it is well understood that this would be accomplished by military means involving the slaughter of the Jewish population, I also said quite clearly that this is not what he directly called for. Indeed, I specifically stated that on this basis I think one could argue that he lacks the specific intent necessary for genocide. That is the crux of the substantive argument.

Professor Heller’s suggestion that Ahmadinejad was simply calling for the end of the Israeli government is untenable.

The Wikipedia entry cited by Professor Heller discusses differing interpretations of a speech of Ahmadinejad in 2005. The speech took place in a conference in Tehran entitled “The World Without Zionism,” organized by the Association of Islamic Students Societies. The translation controversy concerns a single phrase (“be wiped off the face of the earth”) in the following paragraph (the following is the translation provided by the Iranian government news agency ISNA):

“Our dear Imam [Ayatollah Khomeni] ordered that the occupying regime in Al-Qods be wiped off the face of the earth. This was a very wise statement. The issue of Palestine is not one on which we could make a piecemeal compromise… This would mean our defeat. Anyone who would recognize this state [Israel] has put his signature under the defeat of the Islamic world. In his struggle against the World Arrogance, our dear Imam targeted the central and command base of the enemy, namely the occupying regime in Al-Qods.”

A later paragraph adds: “The issue of Palestine will only be resolved when all of Palestine comes under Palestinian rule, when all the refugees return to their homes, and when a popular government chosen by this nation takes the affairs in its hands. Of course, those who have come to this land from far away to plunder this land have no right to participate in the decision-making process for this nation… God willing, [the Palestinian struggle] will pave the way for the annihilation of the Zionist regime and it will be a downhill route.”

It is perfectly clear from this that — irrespective of whether one translates the controversial phrase as “be wiped off the face of the earth” as did the Iranian news agency, or as “vanish from the page of time,” as did Juan Cole — Ahmadinejad is calling for the elimination of the state of Israel and its replacement with a state of Palestine in which Jews will have no right to participate. The euphemism of “Zionist regime” is an old and familiar one for the Jewish state of Israel. It does not refer to any particular government of that state. Similarly the reference to the Jewish population of Israel as “those who have come to this land from far away to plunder this land” is a familiar one, and is particularly appropriate to Ahmadinejad who speaks of the Jewish population of Israel as interlopers imposed on the Middle East by Europe in response to the Holocaust.

It is quite clear that the “Zionist regime” here refers to the state of Israel under any government, rather than a particular government in Israel. Thus, it is quite misleading for Professor Heller to suggest that Ahmadinejad was “calling for the end of the Israeli government.”

Even Juan Cole, who claims that there is no call for eliminating Israel (which claim I referred to as apologetics in my earlier posting) does not pretend that Zionist regime means anything other than the state of Israel. Cole’s claim is that Ahmadinejad wasn’t calling for Israel’s elimination; he was just predicting it. Of course, Cole’s claim is rather difficult to maintain in the face of the speech’s suffusion with military imagery.

For instance: “In his struggle against the World Arrogance, our dear Imam targeted the central and command base of the enemy, namely the occupying regime in Al-Qods.”

Or: “… There is a historic battle going on between the Oppressor World and the Islamic world … [T]he Oppressor World created the regime occupying Al-Qods as the bridgehead for its domination of the Islamic world. Bridgehead is a military term in warfare. … The occupying state [Israel] is the bridgehead of the Oppressor World in the heart of the Islamic world. … The battle that is going on in Palestine today, therefore, is the frontline of the conflict between the Islamic world and the Oppressor World. It is a battle of destiny that will determine the fate of hundreds of years of conflict in Palestine. … I must say that you have chosen a very valuable title for your gathering [World Without Zionism]. … you know well that this slogan and goal can be achieved and can definitely be realised.”

Incidentally, this speech is not the only instance in which Ahaminejad has called for the annihilation of the “Zionist regime.” See, for example, this Washington Post story, which I linked in my original post, stating that the main solution for Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in south Lebanon was “the elimination of the Zionist regime.”

See also, this report of Ahmadinejad explaining that “the fact is that Israel can ultimately not continue its existence.”


4 Responses

  1. Contrary to Professor Bell’s assertion, I never “misleadingly” suggested that Ahmadinejad was “calling for the end of the Israeli government.” I did not “suggest” anything; I simply wrote — very deliberately — that “it is not unreasonable to argue that Ahmadinejad was calling for the end of the Israeli government, not the systematic destruction of Jews as a group.” My quarrel was with Professor Bell’s casual dismissal of Juan Cole’s defense of the regime-centered interpretation as “apologetics,” given that Professor Bell made no attempt to defend his claim that Ahmadinejad’s statement actually called “for the military destruction of the Jewish state and the attendant slaughter of its Jewish population.” Admitting that a regime-centered interpretation may not qualify as genocide is not the same as arguing that the regime-centered interpretation is incorrect.

    That said, I agree completely with Professor Bell’s claim that Ahmadinejad’s statement about eliminating the state of Israel contemplates “the attendant slaughter of its Jewish population.” And I appreciate Professor Bell taking the time to elaborate on his claim.

  2. Well, the following may be dismissed as ‘apologetics’ or as insufficient to persuade others that Ahmadinejad does not contemplate the ‘slaughter of [Israel’s] Jewish population,’ but I would ask Professors Bell and Heller to please consider it in any case (from Juan Cole):

    Ahmadinejad: We are Not a Threat to Any Country, Including Israel

    Believe it, don’t believe it, that’s up to you. But at least we should know what exactly he said, which is not something our US newspapers will tell us about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech on Saturday:

    Kayhan reports that [Pers.] Ahmadinejad said, “Iran is not a threat to any country, and is not in any way a people of intimidation and aggression.” He described Iranians as people of peace and civilization. He said that Iran does not even pose a threat to Israel, and wants to deal with the problem there peacefully, through elections:

    “Weapons research is in no way part of Iran’s program. Even with regard to the Zionist regime, our path to a solution is elections.”

    Ahmadinejad seems to be explaining what his calls for the Zionist regime to be effaced actually mean. He says he doesn’t want violence against Israel, despite its own acts of enmity against Middle Eastern neighbors. I interpret his statement on Saturday to be an endorsement of the one-state solution, in which a government would be elected that all Palestinians and all Israelis would jointly vote for. The result would be a government about half made up of Israeli ministers and half of Palestinian ones. Whatever one wanted to call such an arrangement, it wouldn’t exactly be a “Zionist state,” which would thus have been dissolved.

    The schlock Western pundits, journalists and politicians who keep maintaining that Ahmadinejad threatened “to wipe Israel off the map” when he never said those words will never, ever manage to choke out the words Ahmadinejad spoke on Saturday, much less repeat them as a tag line forever after.

    Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei’s pledge of no first strike against any country by Iran with any kind of weapon, and his condemnation of nuclear bombs as un-Islamic and impossible for Iran to possess or use, was completely ignored by the Western press and is never referred to. Indeed, after all that talk of peace and no fist strike and no nukes, Khamenei at the very end said that if Iran were attacked, it would defend itself. Karl Vicks of the Washington Post at the time ignored all the rest of the speech and made the headline, ‘Khamenei threatens reprisals against US.” In other words, on Iran, the US public is being spoonfed agitprop, not news.

    Although Iran’s protestations of peaceful intentions are greeted cynically in the US and Israel, in fact Iran has not launched a war of aggression in over a century. The US and Israel have launched several during that period of time.

    Ahmadinejad made the remarks in a speech inaugurating work on a heavy water nuclear reactor in Arak. I don’t think that work is very advanced. The Iranians maintain that it is for peaceful energy generation.

    Much of the electricity produced in France, South Korea and Japan is generated by nuclear plants.

  3. It IS quite unreasonable “to argue that Ahmadinejad was calling for the end of the Israeli government.” Even Juan Cole didn’t make this “regime-centered interpretation.”

  4. Oh, he didn’t? How do you understand the following?:

    ‘[Ahmadinejad] made an analogy to Khomeini’s determination and success in getting rid of the Shah’s government, which Khomeini had said “must go” (az bain bayad berad). Then Ahmadinejad defined Zionism not as an Arabi-Israeli national struggle but as a Western plot to divide the world of Islam with Israel as the pivot of this plan.

    The phrase he then used as I read it is “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).”

    Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope– that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government.

    Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.

    Again, Ariel Sharon erased the occupation regime over Gaza from the page of time.

    I should again underline that I personally despise everything Ahmadinejad stands for, not to mention the odious Khomeini, who had personal friends of mine killed so thoroughly that we have never recovered their bodies. Nor do I agree that the Israelis have no legitimate claim on any part of Jerusalem. And, I am not exactly a pacifist but have a strong preference for peaceful social activism over violence, so needless to say I condemn the sort of terror attacks against innocent civilians (including Arab Israelis) that we saw last week. I have not seen any credible evidence, however, that such attacks are the doing of Ahmadinejad, and in my view they are mainly the result of the expropriation and displacement of the long-suffering Palestinian people.’

    AND DID YOU READ MY COMMENT (the post from Juan Cole)? These latest remarks give support to the aforementioned interpretation you describe as unreasonable.

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