There is something terribly confusing about Iran's penchant for denying the Holocaust. Given Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's stated desire to see Israel wiped off the map, it would seem more reasonable for Iran to be celebrating the Holocaust than denying it.
But Ahmadinejad is slicker than that. He embraces not the Holocaust but the nation that pulled it off. In his August missive to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he referred to the German nation as "a great contributor to progress in science, philosophy, literature, the arts and politics" who have had a "positive influence in international relations and the promotion of peace." These lines of course are open to interpretation. He could be referring to Goethe and Schiller and he could be referring to Heidegger and Goebbels. So why is the guy who is gunning for a new Holocaust belittling the last one?
By denying the Holocaust Ahmadinejad turns the Nazis into victims and so provides a space for them to express themselves after a 60-year silence.
First of all, by doing so he empowers those Germans and friends of Germany who carried it out. By denying the Holocaust Ahmadinejad turns the Nazis into victims and so provides a space for them to express themselves after a 60-year silence. Indeed, in Germany neo-Nazism is a burgeoning political and social force that proudly parades its links to Iran.
The German fascist party NPD's followers demonstrated in support of Iran at the World Cup in Germany last spring. This week, Der Spiegel reported that attacks against Jewish children have increased markedly in recent years. Jewish children and their non-Jewish friends have been humiliated in anti-Semitic rituals unheard of since the Nazi era. "Jew" has become one of the most prevalent derogatory terms in use in Germany today.
Iran's adoption of Holocaust denial as an official, defiant policy gives legitimacy to this striking phenomenon. This is especially the case since Iran is blaming the Jews for silencing these poor fascists. In his same letter to Merkel Ahmadinejad wrote, "The perpetual claimants against the great people of Germany are the bullying Zionists that funded the Al Quds Occupying Regime with the force of bayonets in the Middle East."
Ahmadinejad of course does not limit his efforts to the Nazis. He is also setting the cognitive conditions for the annihilation of Israel for the international Left by presenting Israel's existence as a direct result of the Holocaust. As Iran's Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said this week, "If the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt."
In short, Iran views Holocaust denial as a strategic propaganda tool. By downgrading the Holocaust, Iran mobilizes supporters and paralyzes potential opponents. Its coupling of the last Holocaust with the one it signals daily it intends to carry out wins it support among the Nazis and the Sunnis alike. Its presentation of the Holocaust as a myth used to exploit Muslims wins its support in the international Left which increasingly views Israel as an illegitimate state. So by denying the Holocaust Iran raises its leadership profile both regionally and globally.
Indeed, even if the Left doesn't buy into Holocaust denial, it can still agree with Iran's conclusion that Israel has no right to exist. As Mottaki explained, "If during this [Holocaust denial conference] it is proved that the Holocaust was a historical reality, then what is the reason for the Muslim people of the region and the Palestinians having to pay the cost of the Nazis' crimes?"
So from Mottaki's perspective, Israel is illegitimate whether the Holocaust happened or not. In making this point, Mottaki closed the gap between Iran and a loud chorus of voices in both Europe and the US who claim that Israel was established only because of European guilt over the Holocaust and consequently the Jewish state has no inherent legitimacy. This is a view that even Jewish leftists like Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen and New York University Professor Tony Judt have expressed.
Inevitably, those who hold this view come to believe that Israel has no right to defend itself. After all, if Israel is but an illegal European colony on stolen Arab lands, then any act of self-defense that Israel takes is by definition an act of aggression. So from this perspective, all Israel can do is give away land and accept that it must pay for all the pathologies of the Arab world.
The view that every problem in the region is somehow or other bound up in Israel's stubborn refusal to disappear is clearly reflected also in the policy prescriptions of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, in former president Jimmy Carter's anti-Semitic attacks against Israel and in the position paper authored by professors Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer about the so-called "Israel Lobby" (which is due to be published as a full-length book ahead of the 2008 presidential elections).
And so, by framing its Holocaust denial around an interpretation of the Arab world's war against Israel propounded by radical leftists and foreign policy "realists" of the soft-Right, the Iranians enable them to find a comfort level with what Iran is doing today. This comfort was displayed by the new US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his Senate confirmation hearing where he justified Iran's nuclear weapons program by claiming that it was a deterrent measure in response to the fact that Pakistan, Russia, the US and Israel all have nuclear weapons. Gates of course served on the Baker-Hamilton commission and no doubt supports its recommendation that Israel be forced to give the Golan Heights to Syria and Judea and Samaria to Hamas.
Not only does Iran's Holocaust denial attract potential supporters, it also confuses and so neutralizes potential opponents who neither like nor dislike Jews and are too confused to understand the threat Iran poses to the US.
Although it has not for a moment desisted from its calls of "Death to America," its vision of a world without America or its threats to attack Europe, Iran has made Israel the focus of its propaganda. In so doing it has provided cover for "realists" like Mearsheimer, Walt and James Baker who claim that the war is really just between Israel and the Muslims and that the only reason that the US finds itself caught in the middle is because of its support for Israel. That support, in turn, is the result of Jewish subversion of Washington through the so-called all powerful "Israel lobby," which Carter claims, as he sells his latest screed, no politician will risk bucking up against.
This view, now emerging into the mainstream political debate in the US, has already won the debate in most of Europe. There the view is that European Muslims are only attacking their non-Muslim countrymen because states like the US and Micronesia have yet to abandon Israel.
For Merkel, the centerpiece of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's trip to Germany Tuesday was her furious denunciation of the Iranian conference. "I would like to make it clear that we reject with all our strength the conference taking place in Iran.... Germany will never accept this and will act against [Holocaust denial] with all the means that we have."
Ahmadinejad gives people a way to be perceived as being against Iran without actually doing anything to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Merkel's breathless furor is an example of the final problem that Ahmadinejad has created for his opponents by adopting Holocaust denial as a central plank of Iran's foreign policy. Bluntly stated, he gives people a way to be perceived as being against Iran without actually doing anything to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Merkel and her fellow Germans have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past three years condemning the Nazi Holocaust. This week they even organized a special Holocaust-condemning conference in response to the Iranian Holocaust-denying conference.
Yet over the same time period, they have conducted negotiations with Teheran as part of the EU-3 that have enabled Iran to continue its nuclear progress; obstructed US efforts to levy sanctions on Iran; and maintained active trade relations with Iran. Merkel's government has continued the practice of providing loan guarantees to German firms doing business with Iran. In 2005, German-Iranian trade stood at about $5 billion.
Now, after three years of disastrous negotiations with the mullahs, Germany has finally come around to supporting the European draft sanctions resolution against Iran being debated in the UN Security Council. The problem is that the proposed sanctions are so weak that they will have no impact on Iran's ability to move on with its nuclear bomb program.
The obvious fact that the sanctions will have no impact on Iran has not made a dent in Merkel's refusal to support military action against Iran under any circumstances -- a refusal she reiterated while standing next to Israel's prime minister on Tuesday.
Were Israel to base its diplomatic, military, informational and economic policies on a single-minded commitment to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities, it would succeed. Unfortunately, under the Olmert government Israel is doing nothing of the kind on any level.
On the public diplomacy level, were Israel to take concerted action against Iran's Holocaust denial program, it could destroy the program and so enact a positive change in the public discourse on Iran. Merkel's stated refusal to support military action against Iran's nuclear facilities was an ideal opportunity to launch such action. If Olmert had reacted in disgust to Merkel's statement and announced that it was unacceptable, he would have stood the Iranians' propaganda on its head.
Imagine what the impact would have been if Olmert had rejoined, "Excuse me, but it is quite possible that at the end of the day a military strike against Iran will be the only way to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic bombs and so committing another Holocaust. Given this, your blanket opposition to the notion of military strikes constitutes Germany's effective acceptance of another Holocaust. Shame on you, Angie. Shame on Germany."
Such a statement would have changed the entire dynamic of the international discourse on Iran.
If we are willing to do what is necessary, Israel can prevent the next Holocaust.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.