Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Bollinger should have said to Ahmadinejad

Jesse Larner of the Huffington Post Post blog was at Columbia university when Iran's president Ahmadinejad made his controversial visit. This is what Jesse thinks Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, should have said in his opening remarks:

"Bollinger's defense of Israel, while passionate, was also weak, because he didn't have the intellectual discipline to really think out the reason that Ahmadinejad's diatribes resonate in the Muslim world. When Ahmadinejad denies Hitler's holocaust, he's doing it for a reason: because it is part of his propaganda that Israel is justified in the West, and justifies itself, by that genocide. Many people do try to justify Israel by Hitler, and as a defender of Israel, I think it is a terrible mistake. It is also a mistake to simply let Ahmadinejad make this assertion and just ignore it or talk over it as if it doesn't matter, because it proves his point of a false linkage in the west: the Palestinians paying for Hitler's crimes.

"In fact, Israel can - and should - be justified without any reference to Hitler or those other irrelevant arguments, the Promised Land and the Chosen People. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of Israel's Jews are not from Brooklyn or Russia. They are native-born or from the Middle East, from Asia Minor and North Africa, places their ancestors had lived continuously for thousands of years, in recent centuries often - usually, although not always - under extreme oppression by the Muslim majority. They fled to Israel as soon as there was an Israel to flee to; there were more Jewish refugees from Muslim states in 1947-48 than there were Palestinian refugees. Almost a hundred thousand Jews fled Iran, around 40,000 in 1947-48 and 55,000 more when oppression of Jews increased after the fundamentalist Shi'a revolution of 1979, but no one ever asks Ahmadinejad about that. There is a tacit acceptance of his thesis that the Jews of Israel are all from Poland. Why didn't Bollinger address this, instead of thundering against the easy target of holocaust denial?

"None of this justifies the expulsion of the Palestinians from their own traditional lands. But it does make the argument more complicated.

"Just as it complicates things to acknowledge that there is a reasonable argument at the core of Ahmadinejad's objection to the Jewish state. Why, after all, should Israel apportion civil standing on the basis of ethnicity? The question has to make any honest supporter of Israel who believes in democracy a bit queasy. I can only answer it like this: On the day when Iran is no longer the "Islamic Republic of Iran," when Saudi Arabia and Pakistan no longer have an official state religion, when all of these states and the future state of Palestine grant equal rights to all on the basis of citizenship rather than ethnicity, and when Jews can live in peace and freedom and equality in these states, then I'll be out on the picket lines calling for Israel to be a true state of all its citizens. But as the Israeli ambassador to the UN once told me, when I questioned him about democracy in Israel, "given the history of the Jews, I probably will not want to be the first to give up the ethnic state."

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