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What Jewish leader is willing to take up the opportunity Rouhani has provided?

Israel/Palestine
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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

When is enough never enough?  When you’re dealing with the Israeli and the American Jewish establishments and don’t bow down to Israel’s One State/Limited Palestinian Autonomy option you’re going to come up short.

Yesterday Iran’s President Rouhani continued to discuss history’s political topic of topics, the Holocaust. There isn’t another historical event in the world that engenders such political discussion.

Though Rouhani is careful to note that he isn’t a historian, for a politician his historical sense hits the mark.  Despite the objections of the American Jewish establishment and the Israel government, Rouhani gets the Holocaust right.

In various forums over the last several days, Rouhani has spoken of the Holocaust as a crime against humanity and against Jews.  He has called this crime reprehensible and as a crime to be condemned.  Rouhani also points out that others suffered.  Crimes against humanity were committed against non-Jews.  These crimes should be condemned as well.

According to Rouhani, crimes against humanity – and against Jews – do not allow for other crimes to be committed in their name, in this case against the Palestinians.  This isn’t as some report negatively a way of equating the Holocaust with Israel’s policies against Palestinians.  But even if it is, the comparison is about suffering itself, about taking one crime and committing another crime against another innocent person or people.

Rouhani is making an important historical and political point.  Crimes don’t have to be equal in numbers and severity to be reprehensible and worthy of condemnation.  Individuals and peoples suffer in their own right.

Yet with American Jewish and Israeli officials, the New York Times doesn’t think Rouhani has it quite right.  In his second day of interviews, the Times wonders if Rouhani is walking back his understanding of the Holocaust.  Here’s how the Times starts out its sidebar article:

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran appeared to walk his condemnation of the Holocaust back a notch on Thursday, one day after he provoked a politically fraught uproar in the United States and at home with a qualified castigation of one of history’s best-documented genocides.

Mr. Rouhani, who has energetically sought to differentiate himself from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his predecessor known for bombastic anti-Semitism that included Holocaust denial, said in American television interviews this week that he considered the Nazi mass murder of Jews reprehensible. But he immediately added that the Nazis had killed many people, not just Jews, which was also reprehensible. He also said that the consequence of the Holocaust should not have been the displacement of Palestinians from their lands — a reference to Israel.

How this is walking the Holocaust back is beyond me.  Jews who have a Jewish-only view of the Holocaust are welcome to it – as a way of remembering Jews who were victimized because they were Jewish.  Others who suffered during World War II have a right to have their exclusive memories if they choose that route.  However, Jews and others who have suffered do not have a right to cause suffering to others.

“Displacement” – a retrained term for Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the creation of Israel – cannot be accepted as a response to the Holocaust.

In the political realm memory cannot be exclusive.  Otherwise memory becomes a servant of political power.  This is what memory has becomes for Jews in relation to the Holocaust and Israel.

Rouhani properly separates memory and the use of power.  Abusing others in the name of past suffering is a crime.  Continuing that crime over a long period of time is reprehensible.  It needs to be condemned.

The Times ends its article by inadvertently highlighting Rouhani’s level-headedness:

While Mr. Rouhani may have succeeded in at least acknowledging and condemning the Holocaust, a subject that resonates with Jews and others around the world, his words did little to advance his publicly stated message of friendship. If anything, the ambiguously translated language of his condemnation — which was challenged by some in Iran, including the Fars news agency, run by the Revolutionary Guards — only seemed to entangle him in a dispute he had hoped to avoid.

Presented with the opportunity clarify his position on Thursday, Mr. Rouhani seemed to soften his condemnation further, at a forum sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York. Asked if he could clearly state his stand on the Holocaust, he said through an interpreter that he had responded to that question in earlier interviews. “We condemn the crimes by the Nazis during World War II,” he said, but added that many people had been killed, including “a group of Jewish people.” This did not mean, he said, “that the price paid for it should be done by other people elsewhere.”

Quibbling with translations isn’t the point.  If the Times notices the awkward phrase – “a group of Jewish people” – they should also point out that the price paid by “other people elsewhere” is, for Palestinians, too general.

However awkwardly spoken or translated, Hourani’s statements represent a huge opportunity for Jews and the international community’s discussion on Israel.   He does so at a tremendous political risk at home.

It is important to note that Rouhani has used “I” and “We” when making his statements on the Holocaust.   Thus he is speaking personally and for Iran.  What Jewish leader in America or Israel is willing to take up Rouhani’s offer, to take their own political risk and to meet him halfway?

Actually, Jewish leaders ought to meet Rouhani where he is.  Rouhani is where Jews ought to be.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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26 Responses

  1. seafoid
    seafoid
    September 27, 2013, 10:11 am

    “There isn’t another historical event in the world that engenders such political discussion”

    How about Roe vs Wade?
    Far more important too.

    • Walid
      Walid
      September 28, 2013, 1:58 am

      It was historical for the Palestinians as it was wickedly used to dispossess them.

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      September 28, 2013, 2:32 am

      Even in the context of classes in Applied Ethics, discussion about Roe vs. Wade is largely confined to the USA.

  2. MahaneYehude1
    MahaneYehude1
    September 27, 2013, 10:39 am

    The word “Rouhani” in Hebrew (רוחני) means Spiritual (man). I believe the same in Arabic since Rouhania (روحانية) means spirituality. I don’t speak Pharsi, but I know many words were assimilated from Arabic and vice versa, so probably it has the same meaning like in Hebrew and Arabic.

    • ziusudra
      ziusudra
      September 28, 2013, 2:10 am

      Greetings Mahane Yehude1,
      There is no diff. in the root of ancient vocabulary betw. Hebrew, Arabic.
      They are an afro/asian language Group before they became tribal or religious identities.
      Just like there’s no diff. betw. Dutch & Deutsch.
      – Had they not had so many good writers in the 16th C., their Language
      would have remained a Dialect, like Bavarian.
      Pssst, English gets started after the AS conquest in 449AD, but in the 8thC
      AD, you were still hearing AS! In the 8th. German & English still didn’t even
      conjugate verbs. You would have heard: Ic , du, heo, seo, es sendEN.
      ( I, you, he,she,it TO send,- sendEN-) Euro languages go back to Sanscrit & even Brahmi.
      We are an Indo Germanic language Group.
      ziusudra

      • MahaneYehude1
        MahaneYehude1
        September 28, 2013, 1:44 pm

        Greetings Ziusudra,

        Thank you very much for the information. It is nice to learn new things every day. May I ask you if you are linguist or philologist?

  3. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    September 27, 2013, 11:00 am

    No state in WWII acted to end the Holocaust (per se) or the murder, forced labor, concentration, displacement etc. of Slavs, Gypsies, mentally-different, labor-unionists, communists, etc.

    Au contraire, Germany was opposed by nation-states because it invaded most of Europe. WWII was about inter-nation, inter-state violence, not about human rights.

    And today, no state is helping the Palestinian people. Human rights is for people to worry about, not for states to bother with.

    The way of the world. Until it changes, inshallah.

  4. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    September 27, 2013, 1:10 pm

    “No state in WWII acted to end the Holocaust (per se) or the murder, forced labor, concentration, displacement etc. of Slavs, Gypsies, mentally-different, labor-unionists, communists, etc. ”

    Baloney. Part of the motivation of the Western Allies was specifically human rights concerns.

    • Keith
      Keith
      September 27, 2013, 7:21 pm

      WOODY TANAKA- “Baloney. Part of the motivation of the Western Allies was specifically human rights concerns.”

      Western concern for human rights is primarily rhetorical and for propaganda purposes, a pretext for war. Any examination of the history of the European colonial powers and the US in their treatment of Third World peoples will quickly reveal that their collective concern for human rights is close to zero. Actions speak louder than words. And if you can’t come up with numerous examples of what I am talking about, then shame on you.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        September 29, 2013, 1:35 pm

        Regardless, If you don’t believe that part of the motivation of the Western Allies in fighting the Second World War, then, as a historical matter, you are simply wrong.

      • Keith
        Keith
        September 29, 2013, 4:07 pm

        WOODY TANAKA- “Regardless, If you don’t believe that part of the motivation of the Western Allies in fighting the Second World War, then, as a historical matter, you are simply wrong.”

        Woody, motivation is a psychological phenomenon which can only be inferred based upon specific actions. Did the British fire bomb Dresden out of concern for human rights? Did the US firebomb Tokyo and Nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki out of concern for human rights? Perhaps you could provide an example or two of any action which the allies took during the war which was clearly motivated by a concern for human rights? As Henry Kissinger so bluntly put it, “Foreign policy should not be confused with missionary work.”
        http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/henry-kissinger

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        September 30, 2013, 8:20 am

        Keith,

        One needs only study the era to uncover repeated calls to fight the war, and to win the war when it was being fought, and to take specific action, both on a national and personal level, specifically to aid the people suffering under the assault of the Axis powers. That you require someone to point it out examples to you merely means you haven’t done your own homework.

        Both of the examples you gave concern the human rights of citizens of the Axis powers themselves. That’s not the subject of the conversation. The original post was about whether human rights of the Axis powers’ victims was a motivating factor. The human rights of those people were not the concern of the Allied powers, for certain. Even after the war, crimes against them were committed. (See, e.g., the ethnic cleansing of the German-speaking populations of, e.g., Poland and Czechoslovakia (mostly women, children and old people)

      • Keith
        Keith
        September 30, 2013, 4:39 pm

        WOODY TANAKA- “One needs only study the era to uncover repeated calls to fight the war, and to win the war when it was being fought, and to take specific action, both on a national and personal level, specifically to aid the people suffering under the assault of the Axis powers.”

        Jeez, Woody, give me a break. Virtually every war of aggression is justified based upon humanitarian intent. This is called pretexts and propaganda. I could care less about the public statements of government and other liars. Actions speak louder than words, that is why I asked for an example or two of any ACTION which the allies took during the war which was clearly motivated by a concern for human rights. Your response? That I should study up on statements of concern. Christ, not even statements from the classified record, but public statements. Surely, this great concern must have manifested itself concretely. Surely, all of your historical analysis should enable you to provide an example or two off the top of your head. I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time on my examples, well known to all.

        I have already spent an inordinate amount of time responding to your evasiveness. Unless you come up with something interesting, I am not going to pursue this. The examples of US realpolitik motivation, including the recruitment of Nazis after WWII, are rather numerous, easy to find, and quite unambiguous. You might care to read about General Reinhard Gehlen to get some insight into Uncle Sam’s humanitarian impulses.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    September 27, 2013, 1:22 pm

    RE: “Yesterday Iran’s President Rouhani continued to discuss history’s political topic of topics, the Holocaust. There isn’t another historical event in the world that engenders such political discussion.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: Israel and its supporters have turned the Holocaust® into nothing more than a litmus test. Everyone (excepting Palestinians, who are not at all welcome) is expected to go on bent knees (with wreath in hand) to Yad Vashem (ironically built within full view of Deir Yassin) to provide a photo op for Israel’s “public diplomacy”! ! !

    NIMA SHIRAZI (4/24/12): “Obama referred to ‘those sacred grounds at Yad Vashem’, the vast Holocaust memorial complex in Jerusalem. But considering the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t occur anywhere near the grounds of Yad Vashem, one has to wonder what makes those grounds so hallowed.”
    SOURCE – http://mondoweiss.net/2012/04/obamas-selective-view-of-the-struggle-for-human-dignity.html

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Shrine]:

    [EXCERPT] A shrine (Latin: scrinium “case or chest for books or papers”; Old French: escrin “box or case”)[1] is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated.[2] A shrine at which votive offerings are made is called an altar. Shrines are found in many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, Chinese folk religion and Shinto, as well as in secular and non-religious settings such as a war memorial.[3] Shrines can be found in various settings, such as churches, temples, cemeteries, or in the home, although portable shrines are also found in some cultures.[4] . . .

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrine

    • DICKERSON3870
      DICKERSON3870
      September 27, 2013, 1:40 pm

      P.S. RE: “Everyone . . . is expected to go on bent knees (with wreath in hand) to Yad Vashem . . . to provide a photo op for Israel’s ‘public diplomacy’! ! !” – me (above)

      ELABORATION: Here is another nice example of one of these photo ops for Israel’s ‘public diplomacy’.

      • Bumblebye
        Bumblebye
        September 27, 2013, 4:04 pm

        Wow! News at the top of the hour just said that within the past half hour, Obama revealed he HAD talked with Rouhani – directly! Cats and Pigeons?! More Aipac vapors! Nutty fuming?

      • DICKERSON3870
        DICKERSON3870
        September 27, 2013, 11:23 pm

        RE: “Obama revealed he HAD talked with Rouhani – directly! Cats and Pigeons?! More Aipac vapors! Nutty fuming?” ~ Bumblebye

        MY REPLY: I hope Obama’s Secret Service detail is on extra-high alert! I would hate to see him “eliminated” à la JFK.

      • DICKERSON3870
        DICKERSON3870
        September 28, 2013, 12:09 am

        P.S. ● Secrets of the Secret Service; Kennedy Detail – Vince Palama [VIDEO, 05:00] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIds-nFn-0M

  6. Ludwig
    Ludwig
    September 27, 2013, 2:29 pm

    Let’s hear the same talk from the real leader of Iran who is the Ayahtollah

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      September 27, 2013, 3:10 pm

      On numerous occasions, the Iranian people and government officials have announced that they do not seek to develop nuclear weapons and that nuclear weapons have no place among the needs of the nation and the military system of the country. We believe that using nuclear weapons is haraam and prohibited and that it is everybody’s duty to make efforts to protect humanity against this great disaster. We believe that besides nuclear weapons, other types of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons also pose a serious threat to humanity. The Iranian nation which is itself a victim of chemical weapons feels more than any other nation the danger that is caused by the production and stockpiling of such weapons and is prepared to make use of all its facilities to counter such threats.

      Ayatollah Kamenei

    • Walid
      Walid
      September 27, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Do you think that Rouhani would say anything that does not reflect Ayatollah Khamenei’s exact feelings? And if you were to hear it from the Ayatollah, you’d probably ask to hear it from their wives. Keep on denying.

  7. seafoid
    seafoid
    September 27, 2013, 3:33 pm

    What Jews have the balls to stand up to the nihilism of Zionism ?

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.548599#
    The lovers of Oslo refuse to hear the truth

    The world realizes that the many understandings based on the Oslo Accords are irrelevant today.

    By Danny Danon |

    “After 20 years, the Oslo architects who think they possess all the wisdom must be told “nice try, but you failed.” Surely they’d prefer that I reserve my comments for synagogue brochures, not The New York Times, but the world realizes that the many understandings based on the Oslo Accords are irrelevant today. Back then, too, during the Oslo process, they tried to silence the other opinion. But as a person committed to the Zionist way, as a public figure with principles, I will express my opinions, which do not ignore reality.

    The land-for-peace idea has been tried and failed. Maybe the time has come to open eyes and ears to other ideas proposed by large groups of people. Maybe if the Oslo architects had shown the same sensitivity and openness to the ideas of the national camp that they show the Palestinians, our situation would be different today.

    An interim agreement – with the entire Middle East in an uproar, rulers toppling, regimes crumbling, millions of people fighting in the streets from Syria to Egypt and no certainty on whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will stay in power for another week – is folly. And so, regretfully, the reality in our region and in Israel requires us to live for decades more with one hand holding a sword and the other outstretched in peace. I’m not willing to gamble on agreements and live with illusions that may harm our future and the future of our children in the Land of Israel. That’s the way I am. ”

    The writer is deputy defense minister

    So there you have it. The notion that Palestinians are human is as relevant to today as a Kevin Costner movie.

  8. Donald
    Donald
    September 27, 2013, 6:03 pm

    Rouhani has violated a basic rule of etiquette–Western officials and pundits get to decide which human rights violations should be condemned, and which ones shouldn’t. If a mere Iranian is to speak, he should speak the words dictated by his betters, and not drag in irrelevancies like the suffering of Palestinians when he is asked what he thinks about the Holocaust. Only Westerners are allowed to mention the Nazis in the same breath with modern day enemies that they condemn (such as Assad). Westerners, you see, understand history and what matters and what doesn’t, and when to make comparisons and draw historical connections and when not.

    Okay, breaking character, the NYT is a continuing joke on the journalistic profession, such as it is. Seymour Hersh has it right on that subject.

  9. miriam6
    miriam6
    September 27, 2013, 6:53 pm

    As Holocaust dispute flares, Khamenei aides rap Rouhani for conciliatory gestures

    Confidants warn against ‘wild moves’ by president; semi-official news agency denies he recognized the Holocaust in CNN interview

    The idea of a moderate conservative like Rouhani being seen as a bit of a wild and out there radical is funny.

    “We need to gain something from the Americans, before we pose and smile with them,” the report quoted Hamid-Reza Taraghi, an official who trusted with interpreting the speeches of Khamenei, as saying.

    What by way of goodwill gestures will Iran get in return from Washington?

    Sanctions imposed by America for thirty+ years lifted any time soon?

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/khamenei-aides-criticize-rouhani-for-conciliatory-gestures-statements/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=50cc8bee0b-2013_09_26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-50cc8bee0b-54505049

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iran

  10. American
    American
    September 27, 2013, 11:20 pm

    ”In the political realm memory cannot be exclusive. Otherwise memory becomes a servant of political power”

    That is exactly what has happened with the holocaust.
    And the zionist did it.
    I cannot understand how any Jews would follow these mafia style criminals—maybe I could understand why they did in the early days after WWII — but by now they should have seen enough to know what it’s all about.

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