US Jewish leader accuses West of not supporting Iranian reformers

'We have done everything possible to dissuade them,' says Malcolm Hoenlein.

American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein slammed the US and Europe Tuesday for not doing more to back Iranian dissidents and reformers in the form of money and moral support. "If we want to see change in Iran, we have to support the people in Iran who will bring about change. And what we have done is everything possible to dissuade them," said Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who is in Jerusalem for the conference's annual meeting here. He particularly singled out the need to highlight Iran's human rights abuses, pointing to the hundreds of public executions on "spurious charges" held each year. "It's all being published in the papers, and yet the West is absolutely silent in the face of this. It's inconceivable. It's incomprehensible. And it destroys the initiative of people inside the country" to foment change. Hoenlein, who has close ties to the White House, did praise US President George W. Bush for singling out Iran as a member of the "axis of evil" and promising assistance, but added that "the West as a whole has failed to stand up to the murder of Christians, Baha'is, and Muslims." He also criticized the Western powers for not responding more seriously to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denials and calls to wipe Israel off the map. "The world makes a mistake to dismiss Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel and the Holocaust as the rantings of a madman. They are not. They are part of his nuclear program. This is a deliberate, well-thought-out strategy to mobilize the Muslim world," he said. "This has been something we've been concerned about, but the West doesn't take enough account," he added. "The Europeans especially follow this policy of appeasement [in which] somehow we always excuse what they say and look for some faint ray of 'moderation.'" At the same time, Hoenlein charged, the West hasn't done enough to foster the support of moderate Muslim countries. The conference of presidents came to Israel immediately after a trip to Azerbaijan, a country praised as "positive in its treatment of the Jewish minority" by Harold Tanner, chairman of the presidents' conference, who spoke at Monday's press conference alongside Hoenlein. To help encourage moderate Muslims to reject Holocaust denial, the conference is working with Yad Vashem on a new program to bring Muslim teachers to Israel to learn about the Holocaust. They will then be able to return to their native countries to teach their students about the World War II genocide. Hoenlein said that, even though the program hasn't officially been launched and still lacks the necessary funding, already more teachers have applied than could be accommodated in the first year.