Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ahmadinejad: Wiping Israel off the Map?

A trailer for an upcoming documentary on Press TV (can't remember the title, it was mighty late) featuring a clip from the famous 2008 interview of Larry King with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the "Wipe Israel off the map" issue, prompted me to revisit the interview. About a year or so ago I conducted a mini survey among Iranian bloggers to try and get their opinion on what these infamous words are supposed to mean but the result was far from unambiguous.

So with some minimal Googling I found the CNN clip back:

The interview is interesting in its totality but the alleged genocidal quote is brought up at 13:43 and Ahmadinejad really cuts to the chase about it at 20:31.

The complete transcript can be found here.
KING: We're back.

Mr. President, you mentioned the Zionist regime. You've called -- I want to be correct on this -- you've called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now, since you say that you are a peaceful nation, you don't mean militarily.

Do you mean politically wiped off the map?

What do you mean?

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I think that I have to elaborate on two points here. Today marks, in fact, the fourth year of my -- that I visited in New York City. And the questions that are being asked of me are the same questions that were asked four years ago, whereas the world, in fact, has undergone tremendous changes and many developments have unfolded since in the United States, in Europe and everywhere else around the world. These developments are new.

I have responded to this question many times before. The fact that we oppose the fundamentals of the Zionist regime is because of peace and justice. We seek a viable peace.

Perhaps as a journalist who has years of experience, you must be aware of what goes on in the Middle East, the extent of the calamity, in other words.

For over 60 years, more than five million Palestinian have been displaced -- people who were forced out of their homes.

And those who have stayed are being bombarded every day militarily. They are being killed in their homes at times. Women and children at times are besieged. And medicine, water and food does not always reach them sufficiently. Children lose their lives, as do women, as a result, at times. Sometimes women die giving birth. Palestinian figures are assassinated and it goes to such extent that it's actually announced beforehand.

Three big wars started by the Zionist regime, the last of which was in 2006, when they attacked Lebanon.

So when will this calamity -- this catastrophe end?

Our solution is a humanitarian one.

KING: How?

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): What we say is that in the Palestinian territory, there must be a free referendum and the Palestinian people should determine their own fate. This is the spirit and the letter of the Charter of the United Nations.

I'd ask you -- I'd like to ask you, really, how is it possible to force out a people of one land and then gather other people from around the world and let them sit and live in the homes of others and establish a government?

There's really a logic that is unacceptable.

What are the Palestinians to do?

KING: Why...

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The world community that the United States claims to speak for, how come does not embody the voices of the Palestinians?

KING: Why ...

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Sixty years of displacement.

KING: Would you agree -- and there are obviously disagreements here -- would you agree to sit down with all of the people of the Middle East, Israel included, to work at some solutions?

You don't want harmful solutions. You don't want bombs. You don't want to obliterate a people. You want to do some things politically.

Why not sit down and talk, Israel included?

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You see, the Zionist regime is an uninvited guest. It is an occupier. It is killing people...

KING: But if you don't talk to them ...


I'd like to ask you, if someone comes and occupies the United States, as American people, would you give them any rights or would you force them out? KING: But the world declared it a state. Israel is -- that's a fact. You're not going to change that fact. Israel is a state.

So all I'm asking is, why not get together now, states and states, and discuss your disagreements and hopefully come to some peace and bring about justice for Palestinians?

Why can't you?

Israel -- you're not going to change that.

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The apartheid regime of South Africa was a fact, as well.

Where is it today?

The Soviet Union was a fact, as well.

Where is it today?

Was the Soviet Union -- did the Soviet Union collapse as a result of talks and dialogue or as a result of resilience -- resistance, in other words.

At times, you have to resist. You see, over a hundred peace plans have been offered for the resolution of the Palestinian crisis and all of them have been defeated. None of them have given results.

Today, the head of the Palestinian Authority, the Egyptian leader, many others have negotiated with the Zionists many times.

But has there been result? Hundreds of meetings and negotiations...

KING: So then what...

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): What's the result so far?

KING: OK. Therefore...

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): ...except the expansion of the Zionist regime, the expansion of settlements, except for the escalation of tensions and terror and the killing of people. This regime is fundamentally illegal.


KING: Coming up, I'll ask the president of Iran why he denies the Holocaust ever happened and whether he wants to harm Jewish people.

Keep watching.


KING: We're back. Mr. President, since violence is not the answer, and even if -- the Soviet Union did it without violence. South Africa did it without violence. What's the solution? How do we bring about this concept of peace everywhere? You don't want to see Israelis die. I assume you don't want to Israelis die. You don't want to see Palestinians die. What's the answer?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Let me elaborate on two points in response the question. When we speak of a disappearing, what we're speaking of is that crimes must disappear. Murders and killings must disappear. Terror must disappear. Aggression and occupation must disappear.

But our solution is, in fact, a very humanitarian one and a very democratic one. What we're saying is that throughout the Palestinian territories, people should gather to determine the type of government that they'd like to have and have an election for that, free elections for all, under the supervision of international organizations.

Let us give the Palestinians an opportunity to have self- determination. This is the only viable solution.

KING: But does Israel remain Israel?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, let the people decide. Why should we decide for the people? We must allow people to decide for themselves. It's their right to decide. I think that there are two reasons for -- that account for the failure of the peace plans offered for Palestine.

The first reason is the disregard for the root cause of the problem. The Palestinian people were living in their lands. And they didn't have any problem. It was others who came and created problems for them. Well, so we really have to identify the roots of that, and then seek a solution based on that reality.

A second reason is that the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination has been overlooked. Both have been overlooked. I've heard a lot that, unfortunately, a group of people are trying to infuse the idea among the American people that Iran even wants to attack the United States, that Iran is a violent country or what not. These are all false propaganda. Where have we ever attacked?

What we're saying is that we must allow free elections to happen in Palestine under the supervision of the United Nations. And the Palestinian people, the displaced Palestinian people, or whoever considers Palestine its land, can participate in free elections. And then whatever happens as a result could happen.

KING: But you do not wish --

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Why -- we can't decide for the people.

KING: You do not wish the Jewish people harm?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No. You see, we have no problems with Jewish people. There are many Jews who live in Iran today. In Iran, for every 150,000 people, we have one representative at the parliament, or the Majles.

For the Jewish community, even though there are only 20,000 in Iran, they still have one independent member in parliament who has the same prerogatives as the other members of parliament.

But please pay attention to the fact that the Zionists are not Jewish people. They have no religion. They have no religion. They're neither Jews nor Christians nor Muslims. They just have -- wear masks of religiosity. How can you possibly be religious and occupy the land of other people? How can you call yourself a religious person and kill women and children?

KING: Well, they come from a --

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Women and children, women and children were (INAUDIBLE) as a result, cannot have access to medicine.

KING: Mr. President, do they not -- I know you've denied this for some reason, but do they not -- the Zionists, as you call them, do they not come from some history of persecution? Do they not come from the deaths of millions of men, women, and children? Is there not a birth -- there's no birth in that. You don't think that happened?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): First and foremost, they simply don't allow anyone to freely discuss the history that happened. They just say, this is our telling of the history and this is what happened. And everybody just listen to it.

KING: You say it didn't happen?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Let's just assume -- what I'm saying is let more research be done on this -- that history. There is a claim that the extent of the calamity was what it was. There are people who agree with it. There are people who disagree. Some completely deny it. Some absolutely agree with the whole account of it.

What we're saying is that we should have an impartial group go do their own research about the extent of the calamity that occurred and then announce a result of that.

Now but what I'd like is really to put this debate aside for a moment. Let's assume that it happened, the extent of which everyone is speaking of. Where did it happen? Did it happen in Palestine? Or did it happen in Europe?

KING: Well, it created Israel.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): If it happened -- no, it happened in Europe. If the crimes were committed in Europe, why should the Palestinian people be victimized as a result? Why don't the Europeans just give them a territory? Or in Alaska, perhaps. They could give them a territory anywhere they like. But why pay from the pocket of some other people? It's as if somebody -- you throw a party from the pocket of someone else. The Palestinian people had no role in that crime. They're innocent, completely.

KING: When we come back, I'll ask our guest about Iran's worst fears and about his claim that there are no homosexuals in his country. That's next on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

So, what does all this mean? Well, some have tried to interpret Ahmadinejad's words literally, syllable by syllable, punctuation mark by punctuation mark but in my honest opinion that's not necessary. If we're lending credence to the 'Wipe the Israel off the map' utterance as a genuine genocidal threat to Israel, then fairness demands that we take into account what he said here very publicly and by his own account several times already ("I have responded to this question many times before").


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