UNITED NATIONS - As part of its latest effort to ratchet up pressure against Iran at the United Nations, the Bush administration introduced a resolution this week condemning Holocaust denial. The U.N. General Assembly was expected to adopt the measure overwhelmingly.
The resolution, tabled Monday, calls upon all member states to “reject any denial of the Holocaust,” warning that “ignoring the historical fact of these terrible events increases the risk they will be repeated.”
Israel and most major American Jewish groups threw their support behind the initiative, which was presented to them by Israel and American officials last week and which had more than 72 sponsors as of Tuesday, including Russia, whose military sales to Tehran have unnerved officials in Washington and in Jerusalem. Turkey and Bosnia, two moderate Muslim-majority countries, also signed on as sponsors.
The draft resolution, which “condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust,” does not single out any specific country for criticism. But the obvious target is Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has questioned the Holocaust repeatedly and hosted a conference late last year featuring renowned Holocaust deniers.
The move is part of a multi-pronged strategy to isolate Iran on the world stage and in the Middle East. In addition to pushing for sanctions at the U.N. and for more aggressive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, senior administration officials have warned Tehran to stop supporting and supplying militia groups in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. The administration also launched an effort to publicize Iran’s past terrorist activities and the rhetorical outbursts of its president on Israel and the Holocaust.
Early last month, Congress passed resolutions condemning Iran’s decision to hold a conference on the Holocaust, during which a number of revisionist theories had been aired. Later in the month, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution imposing limited trade sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. This past Monday, Iran barred 38 members of a U.N. nuclear inspection team from entering the country.
American officials said that the push for the new resolution was pegged to the U.N.’s International Day of Commemoration in memory of Holocaust victims, scheduled for January 27. Several observers, however, said that the real goal was to put pressure on Iran, noting that the new measure is essentially a restatement of part of the broader resolution passed in November 2005 that established the U.N.’s International Day of Commemoration in memory of victims of the Holocaust.
“This is essentially a political statement aimed at Iran,” said Eve Epstein, who was an adviser to former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. Epstein is now with the United Nations Foundation, a public charity that works to broaden support for the U.N. through advocacy and public outreach.
Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., did not refer directly to Iran but said that the recent surge in Holocaust denial had prompted several countries to act by reaffirming that such rhetoric was not acceptable.
“It certainly does not happen in a vacuum,” he said of the resolution, adding that he hoped the measure would be adopted by consensus.
Sybil Kessler, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, argued that that the resolution was “universal and timeless” because of the core moral values upon which it was based. Still, she added, “obviously the context is heated and Holocaust denial is more pungent than ever.”
The American Jewish Committee sent letters to all member states, urging them to support the resolution.
The European Union has indicated strong support for the initiative, but some supporters regretted that it was led by the United States.
This week, the spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N. declined official comment. Iran did not publicly object when the U.N. Holocaust day was created. But the Iranian mission to the U.N. issued a statement on the first Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2006, claiming that the world body was being “manipulated for political purposes.”
Last month, the newly appointed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earned kudos from Israel and its supporters when he said during his first press conference that it was “unacceptable” to deny that the Holocaust took place or to call for Israel to be wiped off the map.
“This is the strongest statement ever on Holocaust denial by a secretary general,” Epstein said.