What Jewish organizations must do about Iran

Demonstrations at Iranian embassies would highlight the unacceptability of Holocaust denial.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It is doubtful whether the international effort, now supported by UN sanctions, will deter Teheran from its nuclear ambitions. Understandably frustrated, some Jewish leaders have chosen to be among the most outspoken proponents of military action against Iran. This is a mistaken and dangerous route. Mistaken, because if a military option proves to be the last resort, it won't happen because of hectoring by Jewish leaders or organizations but because strategic considerations have led the US, and perhaps other countries as well, to this conclusion. And dangerous because it may create the notion - vicious, but nonetheless plausible to people not friendly to Israel or Jews in general - that "the Jewish lobby" is what determines American policy. But Diaspora Jews can help, though until now they have failed. Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's nuclear project has been linked to his repeated statements about Holocaust denial and his calls for the destruction of Israel. To this the world Jewish community has not responded as robustly as it could - and should. In the 1970s and 1980s, world Jewry became a pivotal player in the campaign for Soviet Jewry: For years, demonstrations, protests, sit-ins and other peaceful means turned the life of Soviet diplomats all over the West into a daily nightmare and kept the issue at the top of the international political agenda. Whenever a Soviet leader visited the West, or a Soviet ambassador appeared on TV or at a press conference, the question "Why don't you let Soviet Jews emigrate freely?" haunted them constantly. When, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union changed its policy on emigration, it was not exclusively due to this consistent public pressure: but that pressure was one of the major considerations that helped Moscow change its mind. This, and not verbal aggression toward Iran's nuclear policies, is what every Jewish organization in every country should do now. Holocaust denial is a moral, not a political issue, and many non-Jewish individuals and organizations would join such a campaign. WHAT SHOULD be done? •In every capital, constant vigils and periodic demonstrations in front of Iranian embassies would draw attention to the unacceptability of Holocaust denial. •At every appearance of an Iranian official or diplomat, regardless of topic, there should be demonstrations condemning President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, and questioners should be prepared to raise the issue in any Q&A session that follows. •All Iranian cultural functions should be picketed. •Jewish organizations should lobby their respective governments to include the issue of Holocaust denial in any contact they may be having with Iranian authorities. •Universities should be approached to initiate symposia on Iran's Holocaust denial. All of this can - and should - be done peacefully, within the framework of the law. Iranian officials should not in any way be harassed or intimidated: but it should be clear to them what the message is. AS IN the Soviet Jewry case, every demonstration of this sort attracts immediate media coverage. If, day after day, TV stations show Iranian embassies picketed, the voices within Iran which have already begun to question Ahmadinejad's policies will be encouraged because they too will realize that the gutter language of their president is hurting their country, its international standing and reputation. Up till now Ahmadinejad's Holocaust statements have been duly condemned by most Western governments - and then nothing happened. It is in the hands of Jewish organizations worldwide to make these statements an issue which stays on the international agenda. Pious talk about "Never Again" and "the Lessons of the Holocaust" sounds hollow if unaccompanied by a series of steps that make it clear there can be "no business as usual" after such abominations as Ahmadinejad's statements. Any Jewish organization leading such a campaign would also gain visibility in the crowded field of Jewish fun- raising. This is a peaceful but powerful strategy. It worked in the Soviet case, mobilized tens of thousands of Jews all over the world, and showed that there is Jewish power in the world. Its name is solidarity. The writer, professor of political science at the Hebrew University, is a former director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.