Last week, the impotence of the world Jewish community was on display for all to see. For all the talk of how the Jews control the media, the banks, and the U.S. government, a man whose declared intention it is to wipe Israel off the map was treated as an international dignitary in the city that contains more Jews in it than any other on earth. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran not only spoke at the United Nations from the same podium and just a few hours after the leader of the free world, but was even invited to the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations to hold forth as a visiting statesman. So now the world Jewish community must contend with the sad truth that 60 years after the Holocaust, a man can declare himself the new exterminator of the Jews and still be treated with respect.
As I watched the Ahmadinejad media circus fly through town -his face adorning the cover of Time magazine, his soft-glove interview with Brian Williams of NBC news, The New York Times’ front-page coverage of his cool demeanor at the Council on Foreign Relations [www.cfr.org/]–I could not help but wonder whether a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan whose declared intention it was to wipe out all traces of black life from the United States might similarly be feted as a bona fide leader.
I watched Ahmadinejad's skilled retorts to his various interviewers. He was on his guard never to lose his cool. His purpose was not to change or moderate his views, but rather to demonstrate their rationality. First we had Ahmadinejad as independent scientist and historian. How do we know that the Holocaust happened if independent research is not allowed to be conducted? Then there was Ahmadinejad as champion of human rights. Of course he believes Israel must be terminated, but only because of what it has done to the poor Palestinians.
During the years of apartheid, South Africa was subject to comprehensive international sanctions for its disgraceful and sinful segregation of the country’s black population. It would have been unthinkable for President P. W. Botha, the last great symbol of the white apartheid regime, to be feted as an international celebrity in New York City. Had he been invited to lecture the world from the rostrum of the United Nations about the perils of the black menace in Africa, not only the African-American community but every other decent man and woman in America would have objected to his rancid presence. And yet, Ahmadinejad of Iran calls not for the isolation of the State of Israel, but its utter destruction, and is given Western rostrums from which he can spew his vile hatred.
All this is done, of course, in the name of freedom of expression. The argument goes that the best way to change evil is to engage in a dialogue with it. If only Ahmadinejad would be exposed to reason he might be won over. If only we could logically point out to him the error of his ways and the insensitivity of his remarks, he would never utter them again. But tolerating the intolerable is the liberalism of fools and gives a safe haven to evil in a world that is sorely embattled.
Would the Council on Foreign Relations invite a speaker who denied that slavery ever took place in the United States? Would Kofi Annan break bread with any world leader who claimed that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a hoax perpetrated by Africans on the white population in order to curry sympathy?
Allowing Ahmadinejad to debate the Holocaust with serious scholars in front of the world’s cameras is akin to Harvard University hosting a conference featuring the many “scholars” who argue that the Apollo moon missions never took place, and the U.S. government perpetrated a cruel hoax designed to scare the Russians.
Ahmadinejad 's visit transformed a man previously regarded as a dangerous kook into a legitimate head of state granted prestigious platforms, an the assumption that he was engaging in reasoned dialogue and debate.
There is good reason why it is pointless to argue with certain individuals, and one of the best is that terrible horrors can be justified in the name of reason. Hitler always maintained that he was a rationalist who stood fast against the irrational tenets of religion that went against nature. So, while religion argued for the mystical idea of the infinite value of every human being, regardless of natural ability, Hitler euthanized German’s helpless because rationally, in a state that is challenged with limited resources, hospital beds and medicines should be given to those who might one day improve. The mentally infirm would only take and never give back and thus were a threat to the healthy population. Would any of us have debated the question with Hitler? Or would we have chosen to simply condemn his barbarity and inhumanity. There are conversations that can simply never be had.
As a marital counselor, I have listened to husbands who justify beating their wives. “She continuously provokes me.” “She had an affair.” Should I debate the subject with them? Or is engaging in a debate already a concession that maybe they have a point. Rather, we must tell a husband in the strongest, most condemnatory tone that there is no acceptable pretext for hitting one’s wife. One can divorce one’s wife, and one can admonish one’s wife. But lifting a hand is an act of unforgivable cruelty.
Stalin argued that sheer national necessity compelled him to modernize Russia and collectivize the farms in the 1930’s, although the resulting famine led to the deaths of some 25 million people. Pol Pot killed one in three Cambodians because of the “necessity” of “reeducating” them. When it comes to rational dialogue, every argument has a counter-argument. And that’s why certain values can never be debated. There is good reason why there is a commandment, rather than an argument, not to murder.
Ahmadinejad’s New York visit, during which he enjoyed a statesman’s reception among the policy elite, bespeaks a growing global tolerance for evil and its progenitors. From a Hamas terrorist government in the Palestinian Authority being increasingly accepted by the Western powers, to Hezbollah being treated as legitimate representatives of the Lebanese people, it is becoming increasingly clear, not to mention tragic, that the world is prepared to stomach those whose declared objective it is to maim, dismember, and destroy innocent civilians.
Yes, tolerance is important. But tolerating the intolerable and forgiving the unforgivable is the surest way to empower evil.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s newest book is ‘Parenting With Fire: Lighting Up the Family with Passion and Inspiration. The new season of ‘Shalom in the Home’ on TLC, which he hosts, begins on October 16. His website is www.shmuley.com.