Ahmadinejad’s Enhanced Legitimacy Must Be Challenged


With world leaders converging on New York this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will again be present for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session. This time, though, he comes with enhanced credentials. He is no longer just head of Iran; he also chairs the 120-member-strong Non-Aligned Movement.

Countries in the Non-Aligned Movement constitute nearly two-thirds of the U.N. membership. The last time they gathered was in Tehran in late August for the movement’s summit. It wasn’t just lower-level diplomats who were present but also 24 presidents, three kings, eight vice presidents and 50 foreign ministers. They unanimously endorsed Iranian policies, many of which are acts of defiance against international norms.

You’d have to go back to the 1936 Nazi Olympics to find a more blatant international whitewash of a rogue regime. Adolf Hitler by then had ruled Germany for three years. Publicly committed to overturning the results of World War I, his regime had outlawed dissent; imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of political opponents; begun a rearmament program; occupied the Rhineland; and enacted the Nuremberg Laws depriving Jews of citizenship. Nevertheless, no nation boycotted the Berlin Olympics.

Fast forward to the present. Iran’s leadership, intent on being a regional power, has denied the Holocaust and is committed to wiping Israel off the map. It’s outlawed dissent; imprisoned, tortured and killed religious minorities and gays; and is developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations and in the teeth of economic sanctions leveled by the United States and the European Union. This record is crystal clear. Yet, no Non-Aligned Movement member boycotted the Tehran summit.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went, against the advice of many who felt his presence would lend credibility to the Iranian regime. To his credit, the secretary-general criticized Iran for human rights abuses and threats against Israel, and urged it to comply with U.N. resolutions. But his lone voice was ignored.

The assembled delegates sat quietly as Iranian speakers reiterated the old charges against the United States and Israel. And the 120-member summit rubber-stamped a 680-point document that seems likely to sow the seeds of further trouble.

Three points are particularly menacing. First, Israel was condemned for its nuclear program, where Iran’s program, falsely described as being for peaceful uses only, was pronounced to be Tehran’s “inalienable right.” Thus a healthy majority of U.N. General Assembly nations have undermined the sanctions regime backed by the U.N. Security Council and encouraged the Iranian nuclear gambit.

Second, the summit condemned terrorism but declared that “the legitimate struggle of peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation” was not terrorism. Thus, two-thirds of the General Assembly approved of the Iranian-supported Hezbollah.

And third, Israeli occupation is identified as the primary cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and ending it as the proper means to secure peace in the region. For good measure, the document accuses Israel of mass torture and of efforts to eradicate the historic Islamic heritage in Jerusalem.

Non-Aligned Movement members pledged support for renewed Palestinian efforts to secure U.N. recognition, a decision that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas immediately cited in announcing his plans to demand upgraded U.N. status when he addresses the General Assembly on Sept. 27.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called the Tehran summit a great success for Iran and a “humiliating defeat” for its enemies. He even described the event as a showcase demonstrating the superiority of the Iranian system over Western democracy.

Canada, a vibrant democracy and not a Non-Aligned Movement member, has severed diplomatic ties with Tehran. Its foreign minister described Iran unambiguously as “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”

As Iran moves closer to a nuclear bomb, much depends on whether the international community, set to gather this month at the United Nations, remains in thrall to the movement’s approach or emulates Canadian courage.

Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.


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