The European Union can strike the right note: It should declare Ahmadinejad persona non grata.
By SHLOMO AVINERI
I am taking the liberty of writing you because you symbolize, to so many of us, the best in the current attempt to develop a European statecraft based not only on common interests, but one that also expresses a community of values. It is as the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy that, in the midst of the present crisis of the EU, you have an opportunity to again remind skeptics what Europe really stands for.
That opportunity has to do with Iran - not with its nuclear program; this is an extremely complex issue, dealt until now, albeit not very successfully, by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU-3 and the United States. Whether Iran will be referred to the Security Council or not, there is a process under way, and though unsatisfactory, it should be allowed to take it course.
It is the recent statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel which I would like to take up. When President Ahmadinejad called for Israel "to be wiped off the map," you promptly called his remarks unacceptable. Similarly worded reactions came from practically all democratic governments.
Yet since then, President Ahmadinejad has gone from bad to worse. At an Islamic conference in Mecca (of all places) he went further: He denied that the destruction of European Jewry by the German Nazi regime took place and called for Israel to be dismantled and transferred to Europe.
This time he also added a bit of ignorance to his rhetoric, obviously not knowing that about half of Israel's Jews are Sephardim, hailing from Middle Eastern countries, not from Europe.
Despite the shock caused by his statements, there are no adequate international mechanisms to deal with such a case wherein a head of a member-state of the UN openly calls for the destruction of another member-state.
The UN Charter does not offer an answer. Sanctions against Iran because of this are unlikely. And no country will go to the length of cutting diplomatic relations with Iran.
But the European Union can strike the right note: It should declare President Ahmadinejad persona non grata in the countries of the European Union. No EU country would allow his entry.
Such a step, while mainly symbolic, would still be unusually sharp. The message it would send to everyone - foremost to the Iranian people - would be clear. It does not involve the use of force; no sabre-rattling need be involved, and no person would be physically hurt.
Yet ostracism is a powerful weapon.
Holocaust denial is not an Israeli or Jewish problem; it is a European - indeed, universal - problem. Similarly, threatening to destroy Israel is not only an Israeli problem; it too is a universal problem. After World War II, certain statements are beyond the pale.
You can act and prove that the European Union is not a dream, nor is it a glorified customs union, nor is it moribund.
It can rise to the level of its founders - a community of values, anchored in Europe's history, its travails and failures, its hopes and ideals.
You can - and should - send this clear message to the world. You owe it to yourself.
The writer is a former director of the Institute for European Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.