Last month 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 American 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 than any other on earth.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran not only spoke at the UN – from the very podium used just a few hours before by the leader of the free world – he was also invited to hold forth as a visiting statesman by the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. So now the world Jewish community must contend with the sad truth that sixty 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’s front page coverage of his cool demeanor at the Council on Foreign Relations – 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 in the United States, might similarly be feted as a bona fide leader.
During the years of apartheid, South Africa was subject to comprehensive international sanctions for its disgraceful and sinful segregation of the black population. It would have been unthinkable for President P.W. Botha, the last great symbol of the white 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 all decent Americans 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 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 inviting those “scholars” who argue that the Apollo missions to the moon never took place – the whole thing was an American government hoax designed to scare the Russians.
The Holocaust is the most documented crime in the history of the world. The Council on Foreign Relations allowing a denier a platform is the same as allowing a serious discussion on whether the moon is made of green cheese.
Thanks to Ahmadinejad’s visit, a man previously regarded as a dangerous kook was granted the legitimacy not only of prestigious platforms but of reasoned dialogue and debate.
There are good reasons 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 standing fast against the irrational tenets of religion. 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 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 pretext ever 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 farms in the 1930’s, even though 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 argument, not to murder.
All this bespeaks an increasing willingness on the part of the world to stomach evil and its progenitors. From a Hamas terrorist government increasingly accepted by the Western powers to a Hizbullah terrorist organization viewed as a legitimate representative of the Lebanese people, it is becoming tragically clear that 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.