Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his critique of Ahmadnejad’s speech, ascribes reductionism and error to the Iranian President’s truncated description of history. He claims that the Arab aversion to the implementation of Zionism in Palestine was a “misunderstanding,” explaining that “Palestinians saw the Jews as an invading force that would uproot their own Arab society. Yet most Jews coming to Palestine were fleeing oppression, and simply could not understand how Palestinians would view them as agents of a Christian West.” This viewpoint as presented by Lerner clouds the truth, intentionally or not, about Zionist thought from the very beginning.
As far back as 1898, Theodor Herzl recognized that, in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the Arabs who were living there would have to be removed. He proposed the following solution for such an inconvenient indigenous population:
“We shall try to spirit the penniless population (i.e. Arab) across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.”
Israel Zangwill, the sloganeer behind “The land without a people for a people without a land,” also knew full well that Palestine was already inhabited. “There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dare not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants,” he wrote in the Voice of Jerusalem in 1904. “The Pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly populated as the United States, having fifty-two souls to every square mile, and not 25 percent of them Jews; so we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan [i.e. Muslim].”
Vladmir Jabotinsky, in his 1923 Zionist manifesto, The Iron Wall, spoke directly to Lerner’s erroneous claims when he wrote,
“…there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country…And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs…We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.”
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized…Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population…As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left.”
To claim that peaceful coexistence was the goal of Jewish nationalism is to rewrite history in order to assuage the consciences of those who regret the consequences of colonialism but insist on justifying it anyway.
Furthermore, in his article regarding the Durban II speech, Steve Weissman writes, “If we follow Ahmadinejad’s logic, as many in Hamas now do, we must fight to undo over 60 years of history, and that will be a fight to the death. The call to eliminate the State of Israel, while not explicitly a call to kill Israelis or other Jews, will sound to them as an incitement to genocide, and they will fight it without mercy.”
Sound to “them”? It appears that Mr. Weissman may hold more contempt for the Palestinian and Arab intellect than Jabotinsky. First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Palestinian resistance. Hamas certainly does not take its cues from his speeches. But it is also important to realize that Ahmadinejad’s words do not inflame the Muslim people of the Middle East, they enrage the white people of the West, those who boycott or leave international conferences without even a hint of embarrassment. In fact, the prior agreement by European delegates to walk out at the first mention of “Israel” proves that these undignified dignitaries would have missed anything he wound up saying anyway and wouldn’t have taken a lengthier, more nuanced discussion any more to heart. It is not that the historical and current reality isn’t known well enough; it’s that the imperial powers in support of the ongoing Israeli Occupation and aggression simply don’t care.
Some critics, such as Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, have accused Ahmadinejad of bad timing, delivering this particular speech at a time when American and Iranian relations may finally be rekindled. These analyses tend to focus more on the eagerness of Israeli leaders to attack Iran, using as an excuse Iran’s wholly legal nuclear energy program and the repetition of the mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s supposed threat to “destroy Israel,” than on Ahmadinejad’s speech itself. These critics appear to blame Ahmadinejad for not kowtowing to US and Israeli rhetoric and capitulating to its demands in the face of grave and imminent danger posed by two nuclear-armed states. How is this Ahmadinejad’s problem? Is truth supposed to tremble in the face of adversity? This argument infers that the illegal threat of attack or annihilation should silence all debate, thereby entirely subverting even the most basic of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist ideologies.
Additionally, it clear that Israeli leaders are not interested in establishing peaceful relations with their immediate Arab neighbors, let alone with Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity afforded to him by misrepresenting Ahmadinejad’s speech to state that any renewed peace talks with Palestinian leaders was contingent on the removal of the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Meanwhile, Iranian leaders speak only of the need for “mutual respect and justice” and the upholding of international law in order to resume diplomacy. And yet, which nation does the United States call upon to unclench its fist?
The Iranian Constitution is quite clear with regards to international relations, explicitly stating that “the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity….” The document forbids any agreement that may result in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, military, or culture of Iran and affirms Iran’s commitment of “non-alignment with respect to the hegemonic superpowers and the maintenance of mutually peaceful relations with all non-belligerent States.”
Furthermore, the Constitution declares that, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has as its ideal human felicity throughout human society, and considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe.”