Iran or Israel: which is more deserving of censure? On the one hand, as the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), reported recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is calling Israel "a cancerous tumor" which, he threatened, will "soon be excised." He added: "The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists ... With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists."
On the other hand, the AFP article goes on to say: "Israel has been employing its own invective against Iran and its leaders, invoking the image of Hitler and the Nazis on the eve of World War II and accusing Tehran of being bent on Israeli genocide."
So let's place these statements on the scale. Dehumanizing Israelis, likening them to a disease, vowing to exterminate them ... well, that does sound a tad extreme. But the Israeli response ... well, it is pretty darn insulting! And really, what is the basis for the Israeli charge?
Could it have anything to do with the fact that Ahmadinejad's words are identical to those used by Nazi propagandists? For example, in 1941 Hitler ordered the excising of what he called "the Jewish cancer" from Germany. After that came the murder of six million European Jews -- genocide.
Ahmadinejad also accused "Zionists" of having started World War I and World War II -- just as Hitler blamed the Jews for these conflicts even as his troops were raping Czechoslovakia. Still, does that justify drawing a comparison between Iranian Islamists and German Nazis?
Logically, of course it does, but in AFP's eyes, no. How to explain this departure from reality and morality? Several possibilities come to mind.
It could be that AFP reporters and editors are simply ignorant -- that they have no idea what the Nazis said, believed or did. I'm sure these journalists attended good schools (not everyone uses a word like "invective") but perhaps they majored in 17th century French literature and know nothing of modern history.
A second explanation: To acknowledge that Iran's rulers are akin to Nazis and are threatening genocide carries policy implications. It suggests that Iran's rulers should, at all costs, be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. But anyone who says that risks being labeled a warmonger, a neoconservative, or something equally unfashionable.
There is this possibility, too: The AFP article expresses anti-Israelism and perhaps, also, the most ancient and durable bias. Don't get me wrong: Not everyone who criticizes Israel is a Jew-hater. Not everyone who hates Israel is a Jew-hater. But all Jew-haters do criticize and hate Israel.
Revolutionary Islamists are candid in this regard. For example, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanese-based terrorist organization, has said: "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli." Nasrallah also has said that if all Jews gather in Israel, "it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."
One final point that the good folks at AFP ought to understand: Any serious concept of free speech includes the right to insult and offend -- to "employ invective." But for leaders of a nation to incite genocide is a crime under international law.
The well-known international human rights lawyer, Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general, has been making a strenuous effort to remind Western leaders that there is a Genocide Convention which they have an obligation -- legal, moral and strategic -- to enforce.
"The Iranian regime's criminal incitement has been persistent, pervasive and pernicious," Cotler recently wrote. In particular, this genocidal incitement has intensified and escalated in 2012, with the website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declaring that there is religious "justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and Iran must take the helm."
Cotler's words have so far fallen on deaf ears. And on Sunday, representatives of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement were welcomed in Tehran. The new president of the NAM: Iran.
Some bold AFP reporter should ask the diplomats from those 120 NAM nations if they are more concerned about Iran's genocidal incitement or by Israelis "employing invective" in an attempt to call attention to these realities. Of course, their presence in Tehran for the NAM celebration answers the question eloquently. In that sense, Agence France-Presse is simply following the herd.
(Clifford May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)