IRAN:A Threat in Any Language
By Joshua Teitelbaum
The leader of Iran wants to "wipe Israel off the map." Was he misquoted? Not
by a long shot. By Joshua Teitelbaum.
During the past several years, Iranian leaders-most prominently President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and
the Jewish people. Certain journalists and Iran experts interpret some of
these statements to be simple expressions of dissatisfaction with the
Israeli presence in the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem or with the current
Israeli government and its policies.
"Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map, because no
such idiom exists in Persian," insists Juan Cole of the University of
Michigan, who argues that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the destruction of
Israel. Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian that Ahmadinejad was simply
remarking that "this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of
time. . . . He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end
to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The 'page of
time' phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon."
Scholars continue to soft-pedal the Iranian president's words. Professor
Stephen Walt, previously the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of
Government and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy with
Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, told a Jerusalem
audience in early June 2008: "I don't think he is inciting to genocide."
In reality, the intent behind Ahmadinejad's language is clear. Those who
seek to excuse the Iranian leader should be challenged when they use the
tools of scholarship to obfuscate these extreme and deliberate statements.
What emerges from a comprehensive analysis of what Ahmadinejad said- and how
it has been interpreted in Iran, including by leading blogs and news
outlets, some official-is that the Iranian president was calling not just
for "regime change" in Jerusalem but for the actual, physical destruction of
the state of Israel. Ahmadinejad's language constitutes a call for genocide,
the destruction of the Jewish state and its residents.
The Iranian government itself reinforces this understanding with its own
rendering of Ahmadinejad's slogans on posters and billboards and during
official parades. Moreover, examining them in context demonstrates beyond a
doubt that when Iranian leaders use the euphemism "Zionist regime" or "the
Jerusalem-occupying regime," they are definitely referring to the state of
Israel and not to the present government. Iranian leaders simply follow the
timeworn practice in the Arab world of referring to the "Zionist regime" in
an attempt to avoid dignifying Israel by using its name. They are not
talking about a nondirected, natural historical process that will end with
Israel's demise; rather, they are actively advocating Israel's destruction
and have made it clear that they have the will and the means to effect it.
THE "WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP" SPEECH
In an address to the "World without Zionism" conference held in Tehran on
October 26, 2005, Ahmadinejad said:
Our dear Imam [Khomeini] ordered that this Jerusalem-occupying regime
[Israel] must be erased from the page of time. This was a very wise
statement. (Va Imam-e aziz-e ma farmudand ke in rezhim-e eshghalgar-e Qods
bayad az safhe-ye ruzegar mahv shaved. In jomle besyar hakimane ast.)
New York Times Tehran correspondent Nazila Fathi translated the statement as
Israel "must be wiped off the map," a nonliteral translation that
nevertheless conveys the meaning of the original: the destruction of Israel.
It cannot be credibly denied: the Iranian president has persistently called
not just for "regime change" in Jerusalem but for the actual, physical
destruction of the state of Israel.
Soft-pedaling Ahmadinejad's call for the destruction of Israel, Cole told
the Times that all Ahmadinejad had said was that "he hoped its regime, i.e.,
a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse."
Official Iranian representatives and organs have since based their slogans
on Ahmadinejad's statement, loosely translating the statement as "Israel
should be wiped off the face of the world." This is evident in photographs
of banners and signs in parades and ceremonies. Even the Iranian newscaster
who introduced the report on the "World without Zionism" conference used the
word "Israel" (instead of the "Jerusalem-occupying regime") and also the
word "world" (instead of the "page of time"), rendering Ahmadinejad's
statement as "erasing Israel, this disgraceful stain, from the world."
Although Iranian leaders are well aware that they are watched by the
international media and occasionally soften their statements accordingly,
they are less careful in internal forums and events. But when Ahmadinejad
punctuates his speech before a large crowd with "Death to Israel" (marg bar
Esraiil ), this is no longer open to various interpretations. He is openly
calling for the destruction of a country, not a regime.
DEHUMANIZATION BEFORE GENOCIDE: ISRAEL AS INFECTION
In the same speech of October 26, 2005, Ahmadinejad returned to the theme of
Israel as dirty vermin that must be eradicated:
Soon this stain of disgrace will be cleaned from the garment of the world of
Islam, and this is attainable. (Be-zudi in lake-ye nang ra az damane-ye
donya-ye Islam pak khahad kard, va in shodani'st.)
To remove any doubt in the mind of the Persian reader that Ahmadinejad is
referring to Israel, the Iranian president's official site
(www.president.ir) interpolates the word "Esraiil" in its report on the
speech to explain the expression "stain of disgrace."
A common motif of incitement to genocide is the dehumanization of the target
population. The Nazi weekly Der Stürmer portrayed Jews as parasites and
locusts. In the early 1990s, Hutu propaganda in Rwanda against the Tutsis
described them as cockroaches. Before Saddam Hussein attacked the Iraqi
Shiite population in 1991, his Baath Party newspaper characterized them as
"monkey-faced people." Similarly, Iran's Ahmadinejad has called Israeli Jews
"cattle," "bloodthirsty barbarians," and "criminals."
The theme of the Israeli as a germ or microbe is a common one with the
Iranian president. In his speech before a crowd in Bandar Abbas on February
20, 2008, Ahmadinejad said:
In the Middle East, they [the global powers] have created a black and filthy
microbe called the Zionist regime, so they could use it to attack the
peoples of the region, and by using this excuse, they want to advance their
schemes for the Middle East. (Dar mantaqe-ye Khavar-e Miyane niz jarsum-e
siyah va kasifi be-nam-e rezhim-e sahyonisti dorost karde-and ta be-jan-e
mardom-e mantaqe biandazand va be-behane-ye an siyasatha-ye khod-ra dar
Khavar-e Miyane pish bebarand.)
On the occasion last year of the sixtieth anniversary of Israel's founding,
Ahmadinejad stated that "global arrogance established the Zionist regime
sixty years ago." The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that "President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday labeled the Zionist regime as a 'stinking
corpse' and said those who think they can revive the corpse of this
fabricated and usurper regime are mistaken."
According to Ahmadinejad, ridding the world of the germ of Israel is
possible and imminent. On April 14, 2006, he insisted that Israel was
"heading towards annihilation." He added that Israel was
a dried, rotten tree that will collapse with a single storm. (Derakht-e
khoshkide va puside'i ast ke ba yek tufan dar ham khahad shekast.)
Referring to the United States (the "Great Satan") and Israel (the "Little
Satan"), Ahmadinejad said at a military parade on April 17, 2008:
The region and the world are prepared for great changes and for being
cleansed of satanic powers. (Mantaqe- va jehan amade-ye tahavolat-e bozorg
va pak shodan az doshmanan-e ahrimani'st.)
Ahmadinejad was fully prepared to make his assertions about Jews and Israel
in the Western press as well. In an interview that appeared in the French
daily Le Monde on February 5, 2008, he said the Jews of Israel are "a people
falsified; invented, [the people of Israel] will not last; they must leave
the territory." Again, this is not a call for a change of government or new
policies. It is clear he believes that Israelis will not endure and will not
continue to stay on the territory where they live. This is a call to remove
Israel's Jewish population from the country, either by ethnic cleansing or
by physical destruction.
READING AHMADINEJAD IN TEHRAN
Although certain Western commentators seek to whitewash Ahmadinejad's
statements on Israel, pro- and anti-regime Iranians (and others in the
region) have no doubt that the Iranian president has been referring to the
destruction of Israel.
"Soon this stain of disgrace will be cleaned from the garment of the world
of Islam, and this is attainable."
Resalat, a conservative Iranian daily, published an editorial on October 22,
2006, titled "Preparations for the Great War," reflecting on an Ahmadinejad
speech two days earlier. "It must not be forgotten that the great war is
ahead of us, perhaps tomorrow, or in a few months, or even a few years," the
editorial read. "The nation of Muslims must prepare for the great war, so as
to completely wipe out the Zionist regime, and remove this cancerous
One anti-regime blog stated: "In every Internet site that I visit today (for
example BBC or Radio-Farda) or the satellite radio and television news
stations that I listen to, the first news item is the pearls of wisdom
issued by Mr. Ahmadinejad regarding the countdown to the destruction of
Another Persian-language blog critical of Israel quoted Ahmadinejad and then
asked its readers, "What have we done to erase this Israel from the scene of
In the Ham-Mihan Forum, a question was raised about Ahmadinejad's
declaration that the countdown toward Israel's destruction had begun. Among
the seventy-one responses: "My opinion is that first you [Ahmadinejad]
should fix up your own country, and then you can say that Israel should be
destroyed. The people in Iran don't have bread and we are concerned with
An Iranian newspaper editorial read: "The nation of Muslims must prepare for
the great war, so as to completely wipe out the Zionist regime, and remove
this cancerous growth."
"I wish that all of this energy that is devoted to the destruction of Israel
would be directed towards the destruction of drug addiction, poverty,
corruption, and prostitution."
Bloggers at Imam Sadegh University called for a boycott of Israeli products,
with the following message: "Dear bloggers: If you would like to do so, you
can take the first steps towards obliterating Israel from the map of the
Ahmadinejad's statement at the "World without Zionism" conference is widely
quoted in blogs by those supporting the statement, those critical of the
statement, and those who support the statement but question the timing.
Persian-language bloggers all agree, however, that "the Jerusalem-occupying
regime must be erased from the page of time" means the physical destruction
of the state of Israel.
Even before Ahmadinejad spoke about wiping Israel off the map, the Iranian
regime used such expressions without leaving any doubt about what they
meant. A banner calling for Israel's elimination was draped across a
Shahab-3 missile during a 2003 military parade, for example. The Iranian
regime itself has clarified that such expressions about Israel's future do
not describe a long-term historical process, in which the Israeli state
collapses like the former Soviet Union, but rather the actual annihilation
of Israel as a result of a military strike. The Shahab- 3 missile has a
range of eight hundred miles or more and can reach Israel from Iranian
Michael Axworthy, who served as the head of the Iran section of Britain's
Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1998-2000, rejects the notion that
Ahmadinejad has been mistranslated and misinterpreted: "The formula had been
used before by Khomeini and others, and had been translated by
representatives of the Iranian regime as 'wiped off the map.' Some of the
dispute that has arisen over what exactly Ahmadinejad meant by it has been
rather bogus. When the slogan appeared draped over missiles in military
parades, that meaning was pretty clear."
THE THREATS START AT THE TOP
Iran's highest political authority is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
who succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. Khamenei has made
statements about Israel similar to Ahmadinejad's. In a televised sermon on
December 15, 2000, he declared, "Iran's position, which was first expressed
by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is
that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region."
"Dear bloggers: If you would like to do so, you can take the first steps
towards obliterating Israel from the map of the world."
A month later, on January 15, he stated: "It is the mission of the Islamic
Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region." Hossein
Shariatmadari, a Khamenei confidant who serves as one of his major
mouthpieces, wrote an editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan on October 30,
2005, in which he argued, "We declare explicitly that we will not be
satisfied with anything less than the complete obliteration of the Zionist
regime from the political map of the world."
Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, a member of Ahmadinejad's inner circle and chairman
of the Guardian Council of the Constitution, told reporters during a
celebration of the anniversary of the Islamic revolution that every year the
crowds are bigger and the slogans more enthusiastic. He added, "The blind
enemies should see that the wish of these people is the death of America and
Mohammad-Ali Ramin refers to himself, as does the press, as an adviser to
Ahmadinejad. The secretary of the political committee of the Rayeheh
Khosh-Khedmat Party, which supports the president, he is a well-known
Holocaust denier and is believed to be behind the president's statements on
that issue. On June 9, 2006, according to the reformist Internet daily Rooz,
Ramin told students in Rasht:
Among the Jews there have always been those who killed God's prophets and
who opposed justice and righteousness. Historically, there are many
accusations against the Jews. For example, it was said that they were the
source for such deadly diseases as the plague and typhus. This is because
the Jews are very filthy people. For a time, people also said that they
poisoned wells belonging to Christians and thus killed them.
Ramin does not even bother to cover up his anti-Semitism by using "Zionists"
instead of "Jews."
Ayatollah Hussein Nuri Hamadani, a leading religious authority associated
with the regime, told a meeting with the Mahdaviyat (messianic) Studies
Institute in April 2005, "One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so
that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam will be met."
A CASE OF INCITEMENT
Finally, it is instructive to examine the view of the Shiite militia
Hezbollah toward Israel for an indication of Iranian intentions. Hezbollah
was founded in 1982 with the deployment of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary
Guards in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley and the training of its first cadre; its
first governing council was established by the Iranian ambassador to
Damascus, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. In its founding political platform,
Hezbollah is clear that it takes its orders from Tehran: "We abide by the
orders of one single wise and just leadership . . . personified by
Take note of the statement of Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of
Hezbollah. In 2002, he disclosed his own organization's genocidal intent
when he declared:
Islamic prophecies and not only Jewish prophecies declare that this state
[Israel] will come into being, and all the Jews of the world will gather
from all corners of the world in occupied Palestine. But this will not be so
their false messiah [al-Dajjal] can rule in the world, but so that God can
save you the trouble of running them down all over the world. And then the
battle will be decisive and crushing.
The statements of Iran's proxies and its leaders, particularly President
Ahmadinejad, leave no doubt. They constitute incitement to genocide of the
people of Israel. They are alarmingly similar to the coded statements of
incitement that preceded the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 and
should therefore alarm all peace-loving people.
There is ample legal basis to prosecute Ahmadinejad in the International
Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for direct and public
incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.
Special to the Hoover Digest. This article is adapted from a longer, fully
referenced version available from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
( http://jcpa.org/text/ahmadinejad2-words.pdf ).