Over the past several years, Iranian leaders – most prominently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have made numerous statements calling for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. While certain experts have interpreted these statements to be simple expressions of dissatisfaction with the current Israeli government and its policies, in reality, the intent behind Ahmadinejad’s language and that of others is clear.
What emerges from a comprehensive analysis of what Ahmadinejad actually said – and how it has been interpreted in Iran – is that the Iranian president was not just calling for “regime change” in Jerusalem, but rather the actual physical destruction of the State of Israel. When Ahmadinejad punctuates his speech with “Death to Israel” (marg bar Esraiil), this is no longer open to various interpretations.
A common motif of genocide incitement is the dehumanization of the target population. The Nazi weekly Der Sturmer portrayed Jews as parasites and locusts. Ahmadinejad said in a speech on February 20, 2008: “In the Middle East, they [the global powers] have created a black and filthy microbe called the Zionist regime.” In the early 1990s, Hutu propaganda in Rwanda against the Tutsis described them as “cockroaches.” Prior to Saddam Hussein’s operations against the Iraqi Shiite population in 1991, his Baath Party newspaper characterized them as “monkey-faced people.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, has made statements about Israel similar to Ahmadinejad. On December 15, 2000, he declared on Iranian TV: “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.”
Michael Axworthy, who served as the Head of the Iran Section of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, notes that when the slogan “Israel must be wiped off the map” appeared “draped over missiles in military parades, that meaning was pretty clear.”
There is an ample legal basis for the prosecution of Ahmadinejad in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.