The U.S. generally makes allowance for verbal excesses from foreign governments, but if expressions of hatred and incitement to violence are actually harbingers of behavior, destruction and murderousness cannot be far behind.
At the UN Alliance of Civilizations [sic], Turkey's Prime Minister equated Zionism with crimes against humanity. The American response was swift; speaking for himself and the administration, Kerry called the remark "objectionable." But after expressing dismay, he called for nicer play. "That said," he commented, "Turkey and Israel are both vital allies. We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps to change their relationship." A State Department official concurred, saying the comment was "particularly offensive" and "complicates our ability to do all the things we want to do together."
But what if Ergodan doesn't want what the U.S. wants him to want -- that is to say, he doesn't want a changed relationship with Israel? What if harsh rhetoric and open political and financial support for Hamas -- a U.S. designated terrorist organization -- are part of Turkey's regional Sunni Islamic ambition, which does not include Israel? What if Turkey's prior cooperation was a phase to allow it to acquire political and military benefits?
In a similar vein, a few weeks ago, a North Korean diplomat told the UN Conference on Disarmament, "As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction." He added, "If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward North Korea to the last, rendering the situation complicated, [we] will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession." A North Korean general warned of the "miserable destruction" of the United States.
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament called the comments "profoundly disturbing," and the Spanish ambassador said he was "stupefied." Why?
Beginning with President Carter, American administrations have treated North Korea's pursuit of nuclear capability as defensive: designed to keep South Korea and the U.S. from overthrowing the cultish regime of the North. The U.S. tells itself that since it harbors no plans for any such invasion, it can reassure North Korea on that point and thus lessen its determination to have nuclear capability – hence the U.S. offers food, fuel and a light water reactor, thinking those "gifts" will reassure North Korea of America's benign intentions. But what if North Korea is not defensive, but rather Kim Jong Un, like his predecessors, believes that the unification of the peninsula should happen under governance of the North? How then should we understand the diplomat and the general? And how should we understand North Korea's latest nuclear test?
The British ambassador said of the North Korean diplomat's remarks, "It cannot be allowed that we have expressions which refer to the possible destruction of UN member states." That is, of course, patently untrue. The UN tolerates and sometimes applauds Iranian representatives who have called not for the "possible" destruction of a UN member state, Israel, but for its outright annihilation.
"The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. "The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land… In the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists… Cancer must be eliminated from a body (the region)." For Qods Day last year Ahmadinejad told the Iranians, "Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world."
The P5+1, the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany who are negotiating with Iran, still seem to presume that Iran is pursuing nuclear capability for some reason other than to use it, and that it can, therefore, be dissuaded from developing it. But what if "annihilation of the Zionist regime" really is topmost in the minds of the Mullahs? What if they believe Israel has to disappear and they can make it happen? What will happen, then, when they get nuclear weapons, if they still really believe that?
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas teach raw anti-Semitism in schools, and that "Palestine" must be "liberated." Terrorists are publicly honored -- last week it was members of the DFLP who massacred 22 high school students in Ma'alot in 1974. Successive American administrations have operated on the assumption that such teachings have no impact on the "peace process."
Egypt's Mohammed Morsi has said appalling things about Jews, although he has been constrained since taking power by his need for American aid and political support. The State Department condemned Morsi's rhetorical excesses almost exactly as it did Erdogan's. Victoria Neuland told reporters, "The type of offensive rhetoric that we saw in 2010 is not acceptable, not productive, and shouldn't be part of a democratic Egypt. That said," she continued, "we look to President Mursi and Egyptian leaders to demonstrate in both word and in deed their commitment to religious tolerance and to upholding all of Egypt's international obligations" (referring to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty).
"That said." Having made her pro forma condemnation of rhetoric, she, like Secretary Kerry, wants nicer play. But what if Egyptian anti-Semitism is the reality and the Peace Treaty only a phase to allow Egypt to pile up political and military benefits from the U.S.? Like Turkey. It is not hard to believe that ideologically driven countries would do what the "civilized world" does not think logical or possible.
When Mein Kampf was published, many people thought Hitler's words were just words. They were wrong. Not only did he believe them, he put what power he had behind them; if he'd had nuclear weapons, he would have used them. How is it possible, then, to watch the acquisition of nuclear technology and more destructive means of terrorism by those who preach the annihilation of others – whether Israel, South Korea, or the United States is the object of their hatred -- and choose to believe they do not mean what they say?
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center