Sanctions Must Be Imposed on Ahmadinejad

Putting sanctions on Ahmadinejad would send an important message to the Iranian people. It is intolerable that such a step has not been taken.

In the public discourse about how to deal with the Iranian challenge, a distinction must be made between the nuclear issue and the racist rhetoric of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who denies the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel. The response to the nuclear issue is not simple, but it is at the center of the international agenda and seems to have picked up momentum recently. The same cannot be said of the second issue: Here both the international community and the Jewish public have failed to provide a suitable response. As was to have been be expected, there have been condemnations from heads of state and other leaders, but that is it.

Let us assume for a moment that the head of a European country were to say that the Holocaust did not take place and that the State of Israel must be destroyed. There is no doubt that the European Union's reaction would have been to recall ambassadors, if not to break off diplomatic relations or declare that leader persona non grata in EU member states. Because of less severe statements by Joerg Haider, Austria was almost banished from the EU. And the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko - who is not a danger to anyone except the citizens of his country - has been forbidden from entering any of the EU countries.

Sanctions of this kind were not imposed on Ahmadinejad and this constitutes a severe political and moral failure, especially on the part of Europe which in recent years has taken significant steps to include remembrance of the Holocaust in textbooks and in the collective memory.

The way in which the nuclear arming of Iran is treated is one thing, but in this case we are talking about a basic issue in which Europe can exert the so-called soft power of which it is so proud. It is not too late. There is no reason why the EU should not declare Ahmadinejad persona non grata in its region. While the Iranian president is not keen to take a trip around the Continent, denouncing him as someone who is not wanted there would send an important message to the Iranian people. Sanctions must be imposed only on the Iranian president and not on the state. It is intolerable that such a step has not yet been taken.

There is also a Jewish failure in this matter. In the years when the Soviet Union prohibited emigration of its Jews, the members of that community succeeded in making the lives of Soviet representatives miserable throughout the world. Through demonstrations outside Soviet embassies, embarrassing questions about freedom of emigration at all news conferences of Soviet leaders in the West, and in dozens of other ways - they turned the Jewish question into a burden on the shoulders of Soviet regime. The wide media coverage of these demonstrations helped the effort.

But Jewish communities have not reacted in a similar fashion about the denial of the Holocaust by Ahmadinejad or about his threats to destroy Israel. There is no reason why demonstrations should not be held outside Iranian embassies in any place in the world, why Iranian ambassadors should not be accompanied at every appearance or trip by demonstrators carrying placards with "Holocaust deniers - out!"

One should not assume that Ahmadinejad will change his tune as a result, but media coverage of such demonstrations would cost Iran a heavy price in terms of its public image.

International Holocaust Day, as determined by the United Nations, will be marked on January 27. It is still not too late from the EU's point of view: It can take the minimal symbolic step of declaring Ahmadinejad an outcast. It is still not too late from the point of view of the Jewish organizations, from the United States to Australia: They can organize protests in front of every Iranian embassy.

There are issues about which one must not remain silent, about which one must protest every day and every hour. One of those is the denial of the Holocaust by the leader of a country and his declared intention to destroy another country.

Read this article in Hebrew.