Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ahmadinejad on the question of Zionism

The claim made by the hard right clique around Ahmadinejad has been that they are the most effective defenders of the nation's sovereignty, and that their opponents are either Western imperialist agents or being manipulated by Western imperialist agents. People have been arrested and tortured under this pretext. So, when Ahmadinejad has something to say about Zionism and its moral claims, he speaks with the assumed authority of the Republic, asserting it as an ally of Palestinians and an opponent of Western imperial power. His latest comments, made on Al Quds day when Iranians demonstrate on behalf of Palestine, appear to deny that the Holocaust took place and thereby claim that Israel's moral mandate is fabricated. I would be quite prepared to be sceptical of any negative claims made about the Iranian leadership in the media, since these have been wrong in the past (cf 'wiped off the map'). And, as Israel is blatantly itching to strike Iran in some fashion, one is justified in being wary of anything that could be used in the service of such an attack. However, the attempts thus far to provide a more 'balanced' interpretation of Ahmadinejad's remarks look tentative at best.

First of all, it is patently obvious that Ahmadinejad did mean to assert that the Holocaust never took place, that it is a "lie" and a "pretext" for the founding of Israel. He further asserts that no research is permitted on the topic of the judeocide by "Zionists and Westerners". There is no point in wasting time refuting Ahmadinejad's claims, but it is worth saying a few things about them. Setting aside questions of probity, Ahmadinejad's argument does not even amount to a particularly effective attack on Zionism. It concedes the wholly false idea that the legitimacy of the 'Jewish state' derives from the Nazi holocaust - the logical corollary of his point being that if the judeocide did take place, which it did, then Israel has legitimate grounds for existence. It concedes the lie that Zionism would be a natural and logical response to antisemitism, pogroms and extermination - it was and is nothing of the sort. It is as if the ideological bases for Zionism were not established well before WWII, as if the project was not already well under way under British tutelage, and as if its founders had nothing to be embarrassed about in terms of their relationship to the Third Reich (see Francis R Nicosia's The Third Reich and the Palestine Question). I would infer that the reason for Ahmadinejad's focus on the Nazi holocaust is that he thinks that Zionism is about Jews, not about colonialism or ethnic nationalism as such. He thinks that if he can undermine the claim that Jews have suffered horrendous oppression, he can undermine the moral basis for the "Jewish state". It is an antisemitic argument, precisely because it concedes so many of the intellectual underpinnings of Zionism.

The interesting thing about this is that anti-Zionism among Palestinians is far more historically sophisticated. The PLO never adopted "revisionism", as it is euphemistically called. Its official position was always that the Nazi holocaust did take place, that it was a tragedy, and that this did not remotely justify the oppression of the Palestinians. Even Hamas, who are often attacked on this question, have been increasingly distancing themselves from that idiotic 'charter' with its references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hamas leaders have been openly denouncing Holocaust-denial, because they understand that it is no alibi to their cause. So what Ahmadinejad is doing is retrograde even in the context in which he would prefer to have it understood, that of the Palestinian struggle.

There is, moreover, a critical context to Ahmadinejad's remarks. First of all, the government is proceeding rapidly with its privatization programme. It is similar in many respects to the programme visited on Russia under IMF control in the 1990s, and is generating a similar class of state-connected 'oligarchs'. In general, the Iranian hard right accentuates external threats just at the point when it is expropriating public goods far more quickly than even the 'Washington Consensus' would recommend. Secondly, as mentioned, Ahmadinejad's remarks were made on Al Quds day. The government obviously expected that some of the protests would turn into opposition rallies, because it explicitly warned the opposition not to make an appearance. The opposition, despite the risk of arrest, torture and forced 'confessions', did turn out as it happens. And Ahmadinejad's remarks were clearly a calculated intervention, an attempt to claim a particularly reactionary and nasty kind of 'anti-Zionism' (the scare quotes are necessary in this case) for the current government.

No doubt Israel's apologists would prefer to cite Ahmadinejad's nonsense as proof of some 'genocidal' intent toward Israel. This is rather cheeky given the frequency of explicit genocidal sentiments coming from authoritative sources in Israel. Consider the Israeli defence minister's threat of a 'Holocaust' in Gaza. Or the rabbis indoctrinating IDF soldiers with exterminationist doctrine and venerations of the racist murderer Baruch Goldstein during the assault on Gaza. Or the messages left by IDF troops and settlers in Gaza and the West Bank: “Arabs need 2 die”, “Die you all”, “Make war not peace”, “1 is down, 999,999 to go”, “Die Arab Sand-n****rs”, “Exterminate The Muslims” and “Arabs To The Gas Chambers”. Ahmadinejad has nothing on these guys. Moreover, his comments are not comprehensible as a geopolitical gesture, but rather as another manoeuvre in a domestic struggle - in a class struggle, to put it bluntly.