NEW YORK (JTA) — When world leaders converge on New York this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will again be present. The occasion is the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session. This time, though, Ahmadinejad comes with enhanced diplomatic credentials. He is no longer just head of Iran; he also chairs the 120-member strong Non-Aligned Movement.
Countries in the Non-Aligned Movement constitute nearly two-thirds of the U.N. membership. The last time they gathered was in Tehran in late August for the movement’s summit. It wasn’t just lower-level diplomats who were present but also 24 presidents, three kings, eight vice presidents and 50 foreign ministers. They unanimously endorsed Iranian policies, many of which are acts of defiance against international norms.
One would have to go back to the 1936 Nazi Olympics to find a more blatant international whitewash of a rogue regime. Adolf Hitler by then had ruled Germany for three years. Publicly committed to overturning the results of World War I, making Germany the supreme power in Europe and combating what it deemed the menace of world Jewry, his regime had outlawed dissent; imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of political opponents; begun a rearmament program; occupied the Rhineland in violation of treaty obligations; and enacted the Nuremberg Laws depriving Jews of citizenship. Nevertheless, no nation boycotted the Berlin Olympics, and Hitler used the spectacle to cement his international legitimacy.
Fast forward to the present. Iran’s leadership, intent on becoming the leading regional power, has denied the Holocaust and publicly committed itself to wipe Israel off the map. It has outlawed dissent; imprisoned, tortured and killed political opponents, religious minorities and gays; and is developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations and in the teeth of economic sanctions leveled by the United States, the European Union and others. This record is crystal clear. Yet, no Non-Aligned Movement member boycotted the Tehran summit, which the Iranian leadership used to cement its international legitimacy.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon participated, against the advice of many who felt that his presence would lend undue credibility to a regime that repeatedly had demonstrated contempt for the world body. To his credit, the secretary-general in his address criticized Iran for human-rights abuses and threats against Israel, and urged it to comply with U.N. resolutions. But his was a lone voice and it was ignored.
The assembled delegates sat quietly as Iranian speakers reiterated the old charges against the United States and Israel. And the 120-member summit rubber-stamped a 680-point document that seems likely to sow the seeds of further trouble.
Three points in the text are particularly menacing.
First, Israel was condemned for its nuclear program, whereas Iran’s nuclear program, falsely described as being for peaceful uses only, was pronounced to be Tehran’s “inalienable right.” Thus a healthy majority of U.N. General Assembly nations have undermined the sanctions regime backed by the U.N. Security Council and encouraged the Iranian nuclear gambit, which the International Atomic Energy Agency reports is close to fruition.
Second, the summit condemned terrorism but declared that “the legitimate struggle of peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation” was not terrorism. Thus, two-thirds of the General Assembly approved of the Iranian-supported Hezbollah, since it is ostensibly aimed at the Israeli “occupiers.”
And third, Israeli occupation is identified as the primary cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and ending it as the proper means to secure peace in the region. For good measure, the document accuses Israel of mass torture and of efforts to eradicate the historic Islamic heritage in Jerusalem. The Palestinian refusal to negotiate a two-state solution or to acknowledge the profound Jewish connection to Jerusalem is absent.
Non-Aligned Movement members pledged support for renewed Palestinian efforts to secure U.N. recognition, a decision that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas immediately cited in announcing his plans to demand upgraded U.N. status when he addresses the General Assembly on Sept. 27.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called the Tehran summit a great success for Iran and a “humiliating defeat” for its enemies. He even described the event as a showcase demonstrating the superiority of the Iranian system over Western democracy. That’s eerily similar to what Hitler, Germany’s supreme leader, thought the Nazi Olympics achieved for his regime in 1936. The parallels are frightening.
Canada, a vibrant democracy and not a Non-Aligned Movement member, has severed diplomatic ties with Tehran. Its foreign minister described Iran unambiguously as “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”
As Iran moves closer to a nuclear bomb, suppresses democracy and continues to threaten Israel, much depends on whether the international community, set to gather this month at the United Nations, remains in thrall to the movement’s approach or emulates Canadian courage.
(Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.)