Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today urged that the U.S. take strong action to pressure the United Nations to stop Iran's genocidal incitement against Israel. Iran's senior leadership recently issued statements describing Jews as "filthy bacteria" and threatening to destroy the state of Israel. These statements followed years of similar propaganda.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Berman urged the Secretary to press the United Nations to sanction those Iranian leaders who engage in hateful speech. Under the Convention on Genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide is a punishable offense.
"Iranian leaders' detestable language characterizing Jews as sub-human and their inflammatory allegations against Jews constitute a threat to Jews everywhere," Berman said in the letter.
The letter also calls on the Secretary to urge the passage of a resolution at the General Assembly condemning Iran's incitement to genocide, and to request that the Security Council refer this matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for the purpose of indicting Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and other Iranian officials.
"This speech is not just offensive or hateful, it is part of a sustained campaign to delegitimize and dehumanize Jews and the state of Israel," Rep. Berman said.
Rep. Berman is the author of key sanctions legislation against Iran.
Full text of the letter can be found below.
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
I am writing regarding an ongoing pattern of statements made by senior Iranian officials regarding Israel and the Jewish people. I believe these statements constitute incitement to genocide, and I ask you to make this issue an urgent priority in the United Nations Security Council.
President Ahmadinejad's threats to "wipe Israel off the map" are well known, but most recently Supreme Leader Khamenei is leading Iran's sustained campaign to delegitimize and vilify both Israel and Jews everywhere. For example, at a so-called "Jerusalem Day" gathering earlier this year, Khamenei called for unity "to remove the Zionist black stain from human society." Previously, with echoes of Nazi Germany, Khamenei had stated that there is "justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and Iran must take the helm."
According to press reports, other Iranian officials have recently characterized Jews as nonhuman or subhuman: "bloodthirsty barbarians," "filthy bacteria," "wild beasts," "cattle," "cancer," "filthiest criminals," "a blot," "a stain," "wild dogs" and the like.
Iranian officials' allegations against Jews and "Zionists" (usually a codeword for Jews) are often grotesque and irrational but, one must concede, quite likely credible to those who are bigoted or ill-informed. For example, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Khamenei told his Jerusalem Day audience that "Zionists, who think solely of power, wealth and dominance over others, have been inflicting very heavy damage and suffering on the whole humanity for over two thousand years, especially during the past four centuries." He reportedly went on to charge that Jews have controlled the United States since its founding and had "designed" the two world wars.
In a similar vein, on June 28, 2012, Iran's Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi spoke to senior UN officials at an event in Tehran supposedly dedicated to the issue of illicit drug trafficking. He said that the teachings of the Talmud -- one of Judaism's holiest texts -- are responsible for "inciting global drug trade and addiction in a bid to annihilate non-Jewish communities."
He also said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade." And he added that gynecologists around the world kill "black babies" on the orders of the Zionists.
These statements are more than hateful expressions. They are precursors to genocide. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) prohibits direct and public incitement to genocide. Iran's rhetoric against Jews and Israel constitutes a clear violation of the Convention, which -- by criminalizing incitement -- recognizes that mass killings commence only after a long process of stereotyping, singling-out, dehumanization, and demonization.
There is extensive precedent for characterizing such speech as incitement to genocide. Julius Streicher, the Nazi newspaper publisher, was convicted and executed at Nuremberg for inciting the murder of Europe's Jews, even though he had not committed murders directly.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda recently convicted journalists and politicians for public statements calling for the extermination of Tutsis (even though, as with Streicher, the defendants hadn't directly participated in actual murders). The tribunal declared that the right to freedom of expression is restricted by the Genocide Convention. The Genocide Convention also removes the traditional immunity for heads of states, leading to a life sentence for former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda for his incendiary speeches.
Of course, Iran doesn't stop at words. It fuses its rhetoric with action. Iran funds, trains, and openly supports terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad among many others, all committed to Israel's destruction and with Jewish blood on their hands. That Iran's murderous intent toward Jews is not limited to Israeli Jews is exemplified by the 1994 AMIA bombing, which resulted in the death of 85 people, most of them members of the Argentine Jewish Community. The fact that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons as its leaders continually call for the murder of Jews makes its bigotry all the more chilling.
I commend the Secretary General on his recent statements in Iran, including an unambiguous rejection of Iran's threat to destroy Israel and its attempts to deny the Holocaust. I concur that Iran's claim that Israel does not have the right to exist is not only wrong, but it undermines the very principles the UN upholds.
These statements must be followed by strong steps at the United Nations to counter Iran's genocidal rhetoric. I urge you to call on the General Assembly to pass a resolution condemning Iran's incitement to genocide, and to request that the Security Council refer this matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for the purpose of indicting Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and other Iranian officials. Additional measures could include UN imposition of sanctions on Iranian leaders based on their genocidal incitement.
Madame Secretary, we have worked hard together to develop, enact, and enforce tough sanctions on Iran. Iranian leaders' ugly rhetoric reinforces the validity of our concern about Iran's quest for a nuclear-weapons capability, its support of terrorism, and its horrendous human-rights abuses. Even divorced from the nuclear issue, however, Iranian leaders' detestable language characterizing Jews as sub-human and their inflammatory allegations against Jews constitute a threat to Jews everywhere. As we know, Iran influences not only its own 80 million citizens but also many others around the world.
Madame Secretary, dehumanization is the first step on the road to mass murder. Please help prevent tragedy by seeking to shame and, if possible, indict the offending Iranian leaders for their unbridled bigotry and genocidal dehumanization of Jews. In your July 24 address at the Holocaust Museum, you eloquently urged that we "push back" against "demonization of Israel and Jews." It is in that spirit that I encourage you to pursue the suggestions in this letter, including sanctions and indictment at the International Criminal Court.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.