Watching Ahmadinejad through Israeli eyes

Reporter’s Notebook, Kazakhstan: There he is, so near and self-assured, this man who arms and funds the people who are trying to kill me.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
ASTANA – It’s creepy, actually, the thought of sitting in the same building with today’s incarnation of evil, with a man who, if he just could, would love to incinerate me and mine and all that is dear to me. It is foul, actually, knowing you are sharing air space with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The mind runs wild in this type of scenario – with Ahmadinejad, on the first floor of the shimmering blue Palace of Independence in the Kazakhstan capital, being politely received by leaders representing more than half of humanity, and you sequestered in the media center one floor above, and a thousand security guards away.
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“What would you have done were this 1936, and you were in a building with Hitler?” the mind asks. But even before an answer can form, the thought is crushed, quashed and repressed as immature musings, irrelevant, exaggerated and overwrought.
But still.
What is creepier still is to watch Ahmadinejad on a movie-theater sized screen in the media center, looking so human, so matter-of-fact, as he spews his venom about the West and Israel, with his words translated by someone with a soothing voice and a British accent. There he goes again, talking about how for the last 60-plus years Zionism has wrought nothing but disaster and humiliation on the Palestinians and on the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad mouths the words, but what comes via translation over the headphones is a mellifluous voice and the Queen’s English. The voice of Hugh Grant; the words of – well – Ahmadinejad. Talk about a disconnect.
There is also a disconnect in the room of at least 300 journalists – from Russia, China, Uzbekistan, India, Kazakhstan,Pakistan, and a handful of native English speakers – in Astana to cover the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The disconnect is that when Ahmadinejad speaks, when he indulges in his hateful rant, there is no buzz at all.
First the president of Kazakhstan, the host country, speaks, then Chinese President Hu Jintao, followed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
They drone on and on, few in the media center seem to be paying much attention: people listening with one ear to the speech, and at the same time preoccupied with something else on their computer screens.
But then Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev calls on Ahmadinejad. I hear his name, see his face, hear his words and – with an odd mix of excitement and hatred – begin to quiver. There he is – so close, looking so self-assured: the man who equips with weapons and money and expertise those quite simply trying to blow me up.
Mine is the only kippa in the room and I imagine – and for a second even feel – many eyes on me, looking in my direction.
But they’re not. It’s all in my imagination.
I look to my left, to a Kazakh journalist, and she doesn’t even notice who is speaking. I look to my right, to a Russian journalist, and he is reading a Russian paper on the Web. They couldn’t care less – for them, it could have been Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva addressing the forum.
And then, as Ahmadinejad ludicrously ticks off history’s horrors – starting with slavery and moving to colonialism, the pillaging of Africa, World Wars I and II and the deaths of hundreds of millions – he gets to Zionism. The blood rushes to the brain, making it difficult to type his words. And again I imagine everyone in the room is taking note, that everyone in the room is exercised, but I glance and see no change in my colleagues’ demeanor from when the president of Tajikistan had the microphone.
An hour after Ahmadinejad finishes I look to see if his words about Zionism are on the Web yet, picked up by the agencies, splashed around the world.
But, alas, they are not. Nobody pays attention. An AFP report makes note that the Iranian President launched a new attack on the “slavers and colonizers” of the West and winked at 9/11 conspiracy theories by speaking of “the creation of 9/11 under whose pretext Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded and more than one million people have been killed or wounded.”
But nary a word about his attack on Zionism. That’s all just Ahmadinejad being Ahmadinejad. At least for the world.
But for the lone Israeli Jew in the crowd it’s more than that – it’s a disgrace. A disgrace compounded tenfold by the silence of the other world leaders sitting impassively while listening to his despicable comments, and an ugly reminder of the sad truth of the first part of Hillel’s famous admonition: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”