But now, at long last, Juan Cole appears to have seen Ahmadinejad for who he is. (I'm as amazed as you are.) In doing so, however, he has defended his prior statements on the subject as somehow true. He has also attacked those who opposed those statements, saying his critics were not only wrong, but liars motivated by personal malice against him. He goes on to blame his critics for encouraging anti-Semitism.
This startling, self-contradictory column was posted on Cole's blog, Informed Comment, on Saturday (Rosh Hashana). Here it is:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a sermon on Friday for "Jerusalem Day" that is full of the most vile crackpot anti-Semitism that can be imagined.
Anti-Semitism as a form of bigotry typically ascribes the most abject motives and character to Jews in general at the same time as they are depicted as secretly controlling the world. Ahmadinejad says things about the "Zionists" like (USG OSC trans.) "After the First World War, they abused the ignorance of the nations and Muslims of the region, and they put Palestine under the trusteeship of the old colonialist, Britain." To suggest that the British Zionists not only convinced the British cabinet to give them a homeland in Mandate Palestine but that they actually were the force that arranged for Britain to take Palestine in the first place is classic anti-Semitism.
In fact, of course (and I only explain this because the history is not on everyone's tongue, not because any serious refutation of Ahmadinejad is required) the British took Palestine because the Ottoman Empire joined the war on the side of Germany and Austria and then sent an invasion force from Ottoman Palestine toward British-ruled Egypt. The British had to conquer Palestine to protect their Egyptian 'veiled colony' and their control of the key Suez Canal.
Elsewhere he says, "My dear ones, the pretext used to establish the Zionist regime was a lie and a corrupt act. It was a lie based on a fabricated claim that cannot be proven. The occupation of the Palestinian land had no connection with the issue of holocaust. The claim, the pretext, and the masterminds are all fraudulent and corrupt. They are all historical criminals. They are responsible for plundering and colonizing the world for the past 500 years." I need to examine the Persian text more carefully, but Ahmadinejad seems to be blaming Jews for the European age of sea-borne empires-- an age that began when Jews were still excluded from many European countries, or had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Inquisition! (I looked again and he actually says that both the perpetrators and the 'protectors' (hamiyan) are corrupt; if he means by 'protectors' the Western powers, then his reference to 500 years of colonialism may be to the Europeans; but it is still a weird allegation, since, when they began their colonial endeavors, most European great powers were riddled with anti-Semitism--what I said above still holds. And it is possible that the referent for the colonialists of 500 years is in fact the 'Zionists.')
He also appears to blame Jews for the Nazi crimes against them, saying that the Zionists spread around anti-Semitic books and films in Europe so as to make Jews hated and so as to cause them to be expelled to Palestine.
In other words, he is saying, all of modern history (possibly from the Portuguese conquest of Goa) and certainly the British conquests during WW I, the Nazi persecution of Jews, and last year's American presidential race, has been the unfolding of a secret Jewish plot, wherein "Zionists" control everything that happens.
You wonder why he holds out any hope of Palestinians prevailing in the face of such a long-lived and all-powerful conspiracy! It is sort of like The Highlander meets the Protocols of the Elders of Zion!
The US press coverage of the speech has focused on Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, which seems more complete than before (he has in the past said that the number of dead, 6 million, has been 'exaggerated'). He said this time, "Four or five years after the Second World War, all of a sudden they claimed that during this war, the Holocaust had occurred. They claimed that a few million Jews had been burned in the crematorium furnaces. They institutionalized two slogans. One was the innocence of the Jews. They used lies and very sophisticated propaganda and psychological ploys and created the illusion that they (the Jews) are innocent. The second goal was that they created the illusion that the Jews needed an independent state and government. They were so persuasive and convincing that many of the world's politicians and intellectuals were deceived and persuaded." Elsewhere he called this 'pretext' a "lie" and a "myth" (afsaneh).
He then went on to repeat his bizarre claim that researchers are prevented from researching the Holocaust. Surely no event in history has been better documented by historians from primary sources.
I just felt a chill, and frankly then nausea, as I read this sewage.
I am not saying that Ahmadinejad is genocidal. He has killed many more Muslims than Jews (I don't know that he has directly killed any Jews, and Iran has 20,000). A campaign of vilication (sic) against me was kicked off when I pointed out that Ahmadinejad had not in fact threatened to wipe Israel off the map, but had just quoted Ayatollah Khomeini to the effect that the 'Zionist regime over Jerusalem' must eventually 'vanish from the page of time.' Since expressing a wish that a regime will collapse is not a casus belli, hawks who wanted a war on Iran were furious at me for revealing the truth. The usually reasonable New York Times even did a hand-waving smoke and mirrors piece attempting to deflect my argument without actually disproving it. And it remains the case that Ahmadinejad is not the commander in chief of the armed forces and cannot make troops march into war-- that prerogative is with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad could not even appoint a vice president he wanted without Khamenei's permission (and when it was not forthcoming, he had to dismiss him).
But the venomous rhetoric against Jews (it isn't just Zionists if it is projected back 500 years) that he used in this speech is so hateful that if it became widespread and ensconced in Iranian society, it certainly would have bad and tragic results-- for Jews, Iranians and for us human beings in general.
One of the dangers of the right-wing Zionists' tactic of smearing as "anti-Semitic" all criticism of any Israeli policy is precisely that they end up trivializing this deadly, soul-killing phenomenon, and by crying wolf so often may actually decrease vigilance toward the real thing. Saying that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is corrupt, or that Israeli settlers in the West Bank are violating the international law of occupation, is not anti-Semitism. Neither one is doing any favors to Israel or to world Jewry, and it is odd that anyone should defend them or see criticism of them as bigotry. But the bilge that came out of Ahmadinejad's mouth on Friday, that is the real thing.
Luckily, most Iranians clearly were not taken in, and his opponents put around pamphlets saying "No to Gaza and Lebanon, I will give my life [only] for Iran!" In fact, by associating it with himself, Ahmadinejad may single-handedly be sinking support for the Palestinian cause among Iranians, since most of them despise him and everything he stands for.
Now excuse me while I go take a shower with lava soap. Ugh.
Remember that Cole is not merely a blogger, columnist or pundit, he's an influential scholar of the history and religion of the Middle East who puts that reputation on the line when he expresses opinions. I believe that he has inflicted an irreparable wound to that reputation with his past defense of Ahmadinejad against charges of anti-Semitism. He has also given aid and comfort to those who support such bigotry. So the fact that he has finally faced the unavoidable truth represents an important step in the right direction.
Has he finally seen the light? Far from it. Cole continues to repeat the falsehoods by which he defended the "wipe Israel off the map" remarks, continues to minimize Ahmadinejad's prior Holocaust denial and to accept Ahmadinejad's slanders of "Zionists" as not targeting Jews . Worse, Cole smears those of us who objected to his previous defenses of Ahmadinejad as "hawks who wanted a war on Iran ... furious at me for revealing the truth". He accuses those of us who attribute Ahmadinejad's extreme anti-Israel feelings to anti-Semitism by calling us "right-wing Zionist" boys crying wolf. By this, Cole attempts to blame those who decry anti-Semitism in the Muslim world for the popularity of that anti-Semitism. Cole has somehow convinced himself that that those who disagreed with his whitewashing of Ahmadinejad's past actions are responsible for the Muslim world's hatred of Jews. The fallacy of that logic is absurd and perverse.
Now that Cole has seen Ahmadinejad for the anti-Semite he is, he must admit that it was wrong to have defended Ahmadinejad against that charge. He must also admit that those who argued for him to do so in the past were right. By doing that, Cole would do much both to repair his reputation and to undo the damage his past enabling of bigotry has done.