Delegation lends Ahmadinejad undeserved legitimacy
By Robert Horenstein
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I know it's almost Passover, but flash back if you would to the Purim story and imagine the following scene: A delegation of church leaders has just met with Haman and is now holding a press conference (indulge me here).
"Our delegation found Mr. Haman to be surprisingly cordial," says the group's leader. "As people of faith, we stressed to Mr. Haman the need to cut through the confrontational rhetoric coming from both him and Mr. Mordechai and to deepen the dialogue so that each can listen and begin to grasp each other's pain. We were most encouraged to hear Mr. Haman confirm that there is absolutely no plot to kill the Jews of Persia?"
After hearing the press conference, Mordechai sends a message to Queen Esther that the alleged plot appears to have been one big misunderstanding and that there's no need to be concerned. A few days later, on the 13th of Adar, Haman, having allayed all suspicions, carries out his plot to slaughter the Jews.
Fortunately, in the true Purim narrative, appeasement wasn't the order of the day. Mordechai stood up against evil and injustice and beseeched Esther to speak out "in this crisis" and appeal to the king to stop Haman.
Fast-forward to today and we find another Persian leader seeking to emulate Haman by threatening genocide against the Jewish people. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and is pursuing the means—nuclear weapons—to do so. Shockingly, however, a group of American church leaders, rather than confronting Ahmadinejad's evil intentions and supporting tougher sanctions against Iran, has chosen to appease and collaborate with him.
In February, a 13-member Christian delegation paid a visit to Ahmadinejad in Tehran, responding to an invitation he extended to 45 church officials while in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly last September. The delegation included Methodist, Episcopal, Quaker and Mennonite leaders as well as representatives of the National Council of Churches USA.
Undeterred by his extremist agenda and historically preposterous views, these misguided souls met with Ahmadinejad for two-and-a-half hours, thus granting him legitimacy and bestowing on him the prestige of the church. (Notably, several denominations declined to participate in the trip, and one group privately shared with Jewish leaders that it had voiced its objection before the delegation left.)
The mere fact of the meeting with the Iranian president was problematic enough. Even more disturbing were some of the observations that members of the church delegation shared publicly afterwards.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad comes across as a religious man," said the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, the NCC's associate general secretary for interfaith relations. J. Daryl Byler, a Mennonite official, reportedly praised Ahmadinejad as a reasonable and witty man who speaks in a measured tone.
Of course, if one can describe Ahmadinejad, who calls Zionists "the most detested people in all of humanity," as having a measured tone, then how much more of a stretch could it be to claim that he's also compassionate (having called on Europe to open its doors to allow the Jews in Israel "to go back to their own countries")? Or how about scholarly (having called for the Holocaust to be studied to determine whether, in fact, it actually happened)?
And since these Christian leaders found Ahmadinejad to be much more like the Dalai Lama than Haman, it should come as no surprise that they took everything he said on faith (no pun intended).
So, despite sponsoring an infamous conference to promote Holocaust denial, Ahmadinejad, according to the NCC's Premawardhana, "doesn't deny the reality of the Holocaust."
Nor does Iran—its refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency notwithstanding—"have any intention to acquire or use nuclear weapons," declared the church leaders in a statement quoting the Iranian president (see, Neville Chamberlain, "Peace for our time").
Ahmadinejad, who openly calls for the destruction of Israel and whose government finances and trains Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, also told the delegation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved only through political, not military means. What was the Christians' reaction upon hearing this blatantly hypocritical statement? "Our hearts leapt with joy," said Mary Ellen McNish, a Quaker leader.
In other words, don't take those who threaten the civilized world at their word. But if they claim peaceful intentions, then, and only then, believe them—and simply make excuses for their threatening behavior.
Sir Martin Gilbert, the acclaimed British-Jewish historian, recently posited that the "barbaric instinct," represented by radical Islam and dangerous despots such as Ahmadinejad, "has to be recognized and understood. It may be much harder to see because it's not a very comforting thought. It's not comforting because it involves struggle and having to respond to danger."
This is precisely the message of the Purim story in which Esther, risking her own life, spoke out and saved her people. It's a message that our friends on the Christian left would be well advised to come to terms with before the Persian nuclear genie is out of the bottle, threatening the security of Israel, the stability of the Middle East and the safety of the entire world.
Robert Horenstein is the staff director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Community Relations Committee.