Barely 48 hours after the conclusion of a government-sponsored Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, Jewish leaders in New York announced an initiative to bring Iran’s president to trial for inciting genocide. An all-star lineup of prominent politicians, lawyers and Jewish leaders laid out the case against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, noting his stated objective of “wiping Israel off the map,” his consistent denial of the Holocaust, and his country’s pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capacity.
Ahmadinejad’s incitement violates the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, speakers said. Thursday’s event at the New York County Lawyers’ Association was organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Even as speakers accused Ahmadinejad of violating the genocide convention, they also sought to lay the groundwork for a military strike if diplomacy and legal action don’t derail Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
“We will try the law. We will try politics. We will try everything,” said Alan Dershowitz, a prominent attorney and professor at Harvard Law School. “But if they fail, we will use self-defense.”
In addition to seeking an indictment of Ahmadinejad in the International Criminal Court, Dershowitz disclosed that he and Irwin Cotler, a Canadian legislator and prominent human-rights lawyer, were preparing a brief to justify military preemption if legal efforts don’t work.
“We waited once, we will not wait again,” said Dershowitz, who like other speakers evoked the global silence as the Nazis prepared the Holocaust. “Do not expect passive acceptance of genocide. We will fight back.”
Iranian diplomats in New York were unavailable for comment.
Several speakers expressed reservations about placing too much faith in the United Nations.
“When you’re thinking about remedies, don’t be naive about the United Nations,” said Ruth Wedgwood, a noted international lawyer and professor at Johns Hopkins University.
She further cautioned that U.N. initiatives have a history of being turned around and used as diplomatic weapons against the State of Israel.
Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, scoffed at the idea that the United Nations could stop Iran. He accused U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of being a “handmaiden to Darfur,” where government-sponsored Arab militias have killed tens of thousands, and a silent bystander as genocides unfolded in Rwanda and Bosnia.
Annan “is invited to dinners all over Manhattan, at Jewish tables,” Peretz said. “He should be put in herem,” or excommunicated.
Peretz noted also that Annan has avoided using the term genocide to describe the killings in Darfur — a term that would compel international action under the anti-genocide convention.
The resort to legal recourse against Iran was initiated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, whose president, former Israeli U.N. ambassador Dore Gold, said Ahmadinejad was in “clear-cut violation of the anti-incitement clauses of the 1948 genocide convention.”
Speakers noted two cases in which international law had been used successfully to prosecute war criminals — former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet and Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia.
But neither of those figures was brought up on charges before committing their crimes, leading a questioner to challenge the efficacy of using legal remedies to prevent Ahmadinejad from achieving his objectives.
Dershowitz stressed that the legal initiative was intended to “give the international community a chance to prove itself,” a community he noted that includes not only the United Nations but states and nongovernmental organizations.
If that effort fails, Dershowitz did not mince words in describing what should be done.
“If the international community fails, if this challenge is not met, we reserve the right of self-defense,” he said. “We pledge here today to do everything it takes, and anything it takes, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We will not fail. We cannot fail.”
Also speaking at the event were outgoing American U.N. envoy John Bolton, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Meir Rosenne, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.