Editor’s Notes: Global amnesia

By David Horovitz September 12, 2007

Ignoring the lessons of the past is a guarantee that the future will be no better

At the start of his monumental history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer quotes a variant of the philosopher George Santayana’s remark, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.’ It is a measure of the current global amnesia that Iranian state television seems more prepared to recall the Holocaust – albeit with a pernicious modern subtext – than the world body that is ostensibly committed to preventing its recurrence.

As first reported in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Iranian TV is currently screening the most costly drama it has ever produced, Zero Degree Turn, improbably centered on the romance between a French Jewess and the Iranian-Palestinian Muslim who saves her from the Nazis. The writer and director, Hassan Fatthi, has said he was inspired by reading about the activities of Iran’s World War II-era head of consular affairs in Paris, Abdol Hussein Sardari, who saved numerous European Jews from the death camps by issuing them with Iranian passports.

Part of the drama’s thrust is to distinguish between Jews, who are officially permitted to practice their faith in Iran, and their sovereign state of Israel, which official Iran reviles. Thus while humanizing Jews, the series subtly delegitimizes Israel and those who support it. In one scene described by the Journal, for instance, a rabbi opines that it is ‘a bad idea for Jews to resettle in Arab lands’; in another, the French Jewish heroine rejects an offer of marriage from a suitor-cousin who supports the establishment of Israel. Writer Fatthi, meanwhile, used the platform of an interview with the Journal to try to parallel genocidal Nazi behavior with Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. ‘The murder of innocent Jews during World War II is just as despicable, sad and shocking as the killing of innocent Palestinian women and children by racist Zionist soldiers,’ he said.

Nonetheless, the lavish series, which was researched with input from Iran’s Jewish Association, stands strikingly at odds with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust. While Zero Degree Turn features a local heartthrob moved to heroism by his love for a Jewish woman threatened by the Nazi mass- murderers, and makes role models out of Iranian diplomats saving Jews, Ahmadinejad would have his countryfolk, and the rest of the world, doubting that the Holocaust ever happened. Monday night after Monday night across Iran, Fatthi is broadcasting an unmistakable challenge to his own president’s efforts at historical revisionism. State TV is essentially telling Ahmadinejad to shut up.

Contrast that 22-part act of subversion with the pusillanimous attitudes and actions of the United Nations. Established in the bitter aftermath of World War II, the UN’s prime stated aims include preventing war and safeguarding human rights, and its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is binding on all ratifying countries (of which there are 137 to date, including Iran).

Yet the United Nations has not merely made no serious effort to punish Ahmadinejad for his strategic effort at rewriting the history of genocide against the Jews, it also determinedly refuses to use its own mechanisms to thwart his ongoing march toward a planned new genocide against us. Week in, week out, the Holocaust-denying president of Iran stridently denounces Israel, predicts its destruction, and urges accelerated progress toward the nuclear capability with which he would hope to achieve this ambition. And year after year, the United Nations cheerfully opens its doors to him and provides him with a stage.

As things stand, this year will be no different. Ahmadinejad is set to fly to New York later this month for the UN’s General Assembly session, as he did last year and the year before that. There will be no effort to begin the process of indicting him for conspiring to commit genocide in flagrant breach of the UN’s Genocide Convention. And the United States, as of this writing, has made no move to put his name on a watch list or taken any step toward denying him entrance.

Such global amnesia and disrespect for international law is certainly not confined to the UN and Ahmadinejad, of course. After 12 years of foot-dragging and corruption in the investigation of the 1984 bombing of the AMIA Buenos Aires Jewish community offices, the Argentinean state prosecution last year formally determined that the bombing, in which 85 people were killed, was ‘organized by the highest leaders’ of the Iranian government. Last November, Argentina issued an arrest warrant for Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president who was recently elected to head its powerful Assembly of Experts, ‘for his involvement in the AMIA bombing.’ Argentina urged Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for him. The response to date of the international community: Silence.

UNFORTUNATELY, ISRAEL is not immune to dangerous bouts of amnesia either, albeit often with the best of intentions.

Yes, we would dearly love to reach a viable accommodation with our Palestinian neighbors, allowing us to live, unthreatened, side by side. And no, most of us strongly reject the notion, slowly gaining traction in parts of the international community, that avoiding engagement with the Islamic extremists of Hamas is preventing any such possibility. Hamas, unlike the IRA in Ireland, is not agitating for a role in determining the future of disputed territory. It is, rather, avowedly seeking Islamic hegemony over both the disputed territory and the sovereign state next door, Israel.

But the fact that uncompromising extremists constitute an ever-more potent threat to any peace process does not in and of itself render pristine and trustworthy the hugely problematic secular partner-enemies of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah. And forgetting, or ignoring, Fatah’s past conduct is a veritable guarantee that its future will be no better.

In a Rosh Hashana interview published in today’s paper, President Shimon Peres declares that the chemistry between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is good, that there is a chance that the two can reach a ‘Declaration of Principles’ on a permanent peace accord, and that its central features would be much like the proposals set out by Bill Clinton in the final months of his presidency.

If this means that Abbas would publicly make plain, on behalf of the Palestinian people, that he acknowledges the impossibility of a ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to Israel – removing one of the central obstacles to an eventual accommodation – then the numerous hours of recent Olmert-Abbas talks would have been productive, but still not decisive.

For if Olmert and Abbas are engaged in a kind of reverse-Oslo exercise – attempting to resolve the knottiest ‘final status’ issues in the hope that by specifying the terms of an ultimate accommodation they will inspire both sides to travel the path to its realization – they are on shaky ground, indeed.

These are two weak leaders whose desire to reach some sort of an agreement is understandable, if for opposite reasons: Olmert is desperate to remain in power, and believes the public will not throw out a leader whose presence offers the promise of peace; Abbas is desperate to get out of the hot-seat, and may be ready to negotiate terms on which his successors will somehow have to try to deliver.

But for all mainstream Israel’s readiness for territorial compromise with the Palestinians, or more accurately separation from the Palestinians, any such partition self-evidently requires a capable partner to whom to hand over territory. And at present Abbas, and his Palestinian Authority, are anything but.

Abbas has lost Gaza to Hamas, faces an emboldened Hamas in the West Bank, has not rooted out the terror gangs from his own organization, and by no stretch of the imagination can be said to have reformed Fatah governance. He could certainly sign a declaration of principles, and would rightly be applauded were he to commit himself to terms that would theoretically afford a viable accommodation. But what of the practice?

Stating what ought to be blindingly obvious, Israel could only contemplate relinquishing control of West Bank territory within rocket range of Ben-Gurion Airport, to give just one example, if it were entirely confident that the vacuum left by its departure would not be filled by people brandishing rocket launchers.

Put it another way: A permanent accord can only be implemented through the Palestinians’ meeting the commitments they have so signally failed to meet in the Oslo Accords, the road map and every other failed peace framework, and chiefly the concerted thwarting of the men of violence who will destroy any and every attempt at progress.

A HIGHLY respected overseas politician with whom I am friendly, a frequent visitor to this region, told me of a visit he had this week with the PA’s Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, the former World Bank official on whom so many would-be international peacemakers are pinning so much hope.

He was dismayed, he told me, to hear about some of the appointments Fayad has made – including that of one very senior adviser who is notorious for taking particularly hostile positions to Israel.

But he was impressed by Fayad’s response when they talked through what my friend set out as the prime tasks facing the PA if it were to come to constitute a genuine peace partner. These included imposing the rule of law and ending corruption; halting incitement against Israel in the media, schools, mosques, training camps et al; and denouncing and fighting terrorism, halting arms smuggling, blocking terror funding and arresting terrorists. Fayad said he fully endorsed every item on the list, and was already hard at work on many of them, notably the staunching of terror funds and the rooting out of corruption.

But then my friend met with a longstanding contact who holds a senior position in the PA judiciary, and was told that corruption and bribery and violence were as rife as ever, if not worsening, and that the notion of Abbas establishing a credible rule of law was a pipedream.

IT MAY not be a lost cause, but it would be madness to ignore the scale of the challenge facing would-be peacemakers, and to create expectations that, if not met, will plunge us still deeper into conflict. The route back toward substantive dialogue is an arduous one, and needs to be planned responsibly, with realistic, verifiable goals, mechanisms for assistance, and incentives and pressures to ensure achievement.

At the end of another tense Jewish year, we pray for peace as fervently as ever and urge our leaders to work for it – a peace built on solid foundations, on genuine goodwill and courage and the determination to frustrate murderous extremists. And we hope that those who speak for us will be wise to the miscalculations and the arrogance that have cost us so dear – capable of learning from history, rather than condemning us to relive it.

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