Let's talk to Samantha Power

The senior national security adviser has been silent on invoking the ‘Responsibility to Prevent’ to prosecute Iran’s leaders for inciting to genocide.

ahmadinejad down with israel REUTERS 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
ahmadinejad down with israel REUTERS 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shmuley Boteach’s positive vibes from his meeting with senior national security adviser Samantha Power several weeks ago (“A frank discussion with Samantha Power,” April 12) require me to record my own experience with her in 2007. Based on this experience, and her subsequent track record, I regret to say that Caroline Glick’s criticisms, in her Jerusalem Post column “Obama’s altruistic foreign policy” on April 22, may be closer to the mark.
But Glick may also be missing a fundamental point about the prevention of genocide and the promotion of human rights, which events over the past few weeks show are inextricably linked. Bashar Assad’s thugs in Syria are massacring Syrian protesters with the help of mercenaries from Iran and Hezbollah.
Power’s problem is that she is interested in intervening after perpetrators start killing, raping, plundering and expelling, and not before. She, and virtually the entire foreign policy elite of the US, Europe and the UN, have been silent on invoking ‘Responsibility to Prevent’ to prosecuting Iran’s leaders and their allies for inciting to genocide, and stopping endemic incitement in the entire Muslim world.. Only recently has Obama protested Bashar’s outrageous behavior (almost two weeks after Hillary Clinton called him a reformer). Hate language and incitement are early warning signs of genocidal terror, especially when those putting out such messages suppress human rights, use extra-judicial executions to persecute minorities, support terror and, most ominously, seek nuclear weapons.
Such hate language and incitement includes dehumanization, delegitimization, disinformation, denial of past genocide, and intimidation.
Everyone knows Iran is an epicenter of jihadist anti-Semitic genocidal incitement.
But there are other foci. Hate language is endemic in the entire Islamic world today. It drives the discrimination, persecution, intimidation and terror which threaten non-Muslim groups as well as moderates throughout much of the Muslim world. Experts on genocide know that perpetrators use incitement and hate-language symbols and motifs to mobilize followers and desensitize or intimidate bystanders. Exposing children to such language in schools, mosques, summer camps, and TV programs promotes intergenerational transmission. So why has she been a passive bystander to such incitement in the Mideast, given her past work on its role in the Rwandan genocide? LIKE BOTEACH, I was greatly influenced by Power’s book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, especially, those sections dealing with the life of Raphael Lemkin, who, after escaping from Poland, coined the term genocide. It amazed me how well a young Irish Catholic journalist could tell the story of an obsessed Polish Jewish intellectual.
Power wrote eloquently about the precedent- setting trials of the International Criminal Court Tribunal-Rwanda. She told of how journalists and announcers, broadcasters and entertainers in Rwanda’s most influential radio station used hate language to incite frenzied Hutu terror squads to butcher Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killing some 800,000 in three to four months – a rate exceeding that from the crematoria of Auschwitz. Nearly all were convicted and sent to prison for incitement, even if they did not participate in the killing.
IN FEBRUARY 2006, the International Association of Genocide Scholars endorsed a resolution calling on the world to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide, Holocaust denial, human rights abuses and pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In 2007, following the passage of a US House of Representatives Resolution based on the IAGS statement, I personally wrote Power – then a professor at Harvard – asking her to lobby for US government executive action.
Ambassador Dore Gold and Professor Israel Charny, an expert on the Armenian Genocide, wrote to her in the same spirit. I personally called her research assistant to follow up.
She never answered.
At the time, then-Senator Joseph Biden – chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee – personally blocked introduction of the House Resolution to the Senate – a fact reported by The Christian Edition of The Jerusalem Post. Thereafter, as Obama raced toward election, the soon-to-be victorious Democrats embraced “engagement with Iran” – which in retrospect bore disturbing parallels to Chamberlain’s appeasement.
One of Obama’s first acts on entering the White House was to remove the bust of Churchill – appeasement’s greatest enemy – from the Oval House which the British gave to Bush after 9/11. Two years of dithering followed. To date, Swiss cheese-type economic sanctions do not seem to have stopped Iran’s brutal suppression of human rights, its incitement to genocide, support of terror, and race to acquire the Bomb – despite the dangers of its exploiting revolutionary chaos and suppressing protest, as it is now doing in Syria.
But the story does not end there. About a year ago, Richard Goldstone, along with Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, were reported by The New Republic as opposing the use of international law to indict Ahmadinejad, because they were skeptical as to whether his repeated Mein-Kampf-type language signaled true genocidal intent. Goldstone was Chief Prosecutor of the ICT-R, and has expert familiarity with the history of Hutu incitement.
Rwanda taught him that words kill.
It is only now that he has recalled the significance of this precedent, and its application to Hamas and incitement in its mosques, schools, political statements and radio and TV programs, even though I submitted a formal brief to his Gaza Fact-Finding Commission reminding him of the precedent. Goldstone, like Power, never answered.
I will send him this article as a reminder.
BOTH GOLDSTONE and Power risk being remembered as passive bystanders – the worst thing one can say about experts in genocide who have real influence – to the mullahs’ brutal rule, which goes hand in hand with their incitement. My students have carried out research showing that when incitement increases, there are more executions.
Power and her colleagues, if they are to be effective in protecting vulnerable populations from genocidal threats, need to advance the locus of intervention from proof of intent after the killing starts to interventions triggered by early warning signs of such threats.
This advance requires the following measures: 1. Applying existing international laws to deter, punish and prevent state-sponsored hate language and incitement by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others.
2. Stopping Palestinian incitement and hate language, which remains the core issue of the Israeli-Arab conflict as a precondition for any negotiated agreement for a real sustainable peace based on live and let live.
3. Mobilizing international pressures to protect and guarantee the human rights of other threatened minorities, which includes Copts in post-revolution Egypt, Armenians, Christians and Assyrians in Turkey and Iraq, Bahai and Kurds in Iran, Christians and Jews in the Palestinian Authority territories and, of course, Arabs subject to discrimination in Israel.
It’s time for all those concerned with life, human rights and dignity to speak truth to Power. Remember Rwanda. ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is not enough. There is a ‘Responsibility to Prevent.’ The writer is an epidemiologist and heads the Genocide Prevention Program of Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine. He is a member of the Advisory Panel of a Joint US-Israel Palestinian Task Force on textbook incitement.