UN building 88.
(photo credit: )
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not bang his shoe on his desk at the UN General Assembly, as did Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in 1960. He did not address world leaders wearing a pistol, as did Yasser Arafat in 1974. The Iranian leader's appearance may well, however, be recorded as an even more shameful moment in the checkered history of an organization supposedly dedicated to advancing international peace and security.
The leader of Iran is a Holocaust denier who, not surprisingly, also denies Israel's right to exist. From other podiums, Ahmadinejad has called for "wiping Israel off the map." This is incitement to genocide, and he continued it, albeit in more polite terms, from the UN podium. A good part of his speech was dedicated, not to opposing Israel's policies, but to decrying the "tragedy" of its establishment.
Accordingly, it is unfortunate that the US, even if it felt compelled by its treaty obligations to allow Ahmadinejad to attend the UN session, did not also feel compelled to arrest him under the Genocide Convention.
This convention, whose full name is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, was signed and ratified by the US. Even national leaders do not enjoy immunity from prosecution. As the UN puts it, "Persons committing this crime shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals."
President George W. Bush and Secretary-General Kofi Annan also spoke from the same UN podium on Tuesday. Bush's speech centered on his messages to the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Darfur.
To Iranians, Bush said, "The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Teheran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. ...We look to the day when you can live in freedom - and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."
These were the right emphases. Not so, Annan's. In his final speech as secretary-general to the gathered leaders, he also focused on this region.
"We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many," he said. "But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield...
"As long as the Security Council is unable to end this conflict, and the now nearly 40-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will respect for the United Nations continue to decline. So long, too, will our impartiality be questioned... And so long will our devoted and courageous staff, instead of being protected by the blue flag, find themselves exposed to rage and violence, provoked by policies they neither control nor support."
With this, the UN's leader waved not a blue flag, but a white flag of surrender to the very forces he hoped to combat. Why is he blaming "both sides" for a war, not to establish a Palestinian state, but to destroy Israel? Why does he imply that Israel is provoking "rage and violence" against UN forces, rather than condemning that violence and the Arab war to destroy Israel of which it is a part?
The Security Council has indeed failed to enforce its resolutions because, time and again, it has stood silent as Israel is attacked and leapt into action to stop Israel from defending itself.
The UN's silence in the face of Iran's open calls for Israel's destruction is an abdication not only of its responsibility to enforce its own calls for peace with Israel, but a mockery of its own charter and the Genocide Convention. The prospect of removing Iran from the UN or at least denying its leader the UN's most prestigious podium has not been considered, let alone acted upon. Not only was Ahmadinejad allowed in the UN, but Annan himself met with him just weeks ago in Teheran.
When bullies and terrorists crush their peoples and feel free to lecture the leaders of nations at the UN, it is a bad sign for the forces of freedom in the world. Speech, whether on our side or theirs, cannot obscure the stark reality as described by eminent historian Bernard Lewis: "Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us."