A major online fight has broken out. I am a good and old friend of one of those involved, so my bias is clear. I should say one thing in Cole's favor, taking him at his word. I was not aware - and maybe Hitch wasn't either (I haven't consulted him today) - that the email quoted was for a strictly private list. I didn't quote it myself, but I linked. I'm a strong believer in the principle of online privacy, if at all possible, and regret unknowingly violating that rule, and apologize for that inadvertence. Cole, however, trashes whatever high ground he might have sought by accusing Hitch of writing the piece drunk, or, worse, having it ghost-written. By pure coincidence, I was at Hitch's yesterday as he filed the piece. He was stone-cold sober. And on top form. It is Cole who owes Hitch an apology. Hitch stuck to the issues; Cole got personal.
Moreover, reading Hitch's piece and Cole's and a neutral translation of Ahmadinejad's disputed speech, I cannot help but believe that Cole, as he concedes, got his first take wrong, and then deliberately misled readers in his second version.
There are two matters at issue. The first is the technical question of what "wiping Israel off the map" means. It could mean a bombing, nuking or military invasion; it could mean its simple ceasing to exist, through some kind of violent uprising among Palestinians. But it is hard to see how Israel could be "wiped off the map" without some form of violence against it. Ahmadinejad's adherence to that part of Islam that foresees the Apocalypse soon destroying Jewish control of Israel does not portend to me some kind of democratic voting process whereby Palestinian Israelis gradually vote the Jewish state out of existence. But even if it did, does any sane person honestly believe that the Jews who then lived under Ahmadinejad's proposed Islamic theocracy in Palestine would not be murdered or expelled or annihilated? Please. We all know what Ahmadinejad thinks of Jews. He tells us often enough. Later on in the speech, Ahmadinejad menacingly says:
The issue of Palestine is not over at all. It will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power. Of course those who have come from far away to plunder this land have no right to choose for this nation.
I hope the Palestinian people will remain alert and aware in the same way that they have continued their struggle in the past ten years.
If we get through this brief period successfully, the path of eliminating the occupying regime will be easy and down-hill. [My italics thoughout.]
What does "brief period" mean? And what does "eliminate" mean? It could mean ending the fifty years of Israel's existence; it could mean the short period of time before the Apocalypse; but I'd say the most plausible explanation is that it refers to the "brief period" before which Iran gets a nuclear bomb. Whatever it means, Ahmadinejad's desire to end Israel's existence and establish Islamist rule in Palestine cannot mean anything but the annihilation of the Jews therein. Coles' semantic point seems to me to crumble upon inspection.
Then there's the question of the disputed passage. Here is the New York Time's full translation of the Ahmadinejad speech. The critical passages are rendered as follows:
The establishment of the occupying regime of Qods [Jerusalem] was a major move by the world oppressor [the United States] against the Islamic world. The situation has changed in this historical struggle. Sometimes the Muslims have won and moved forward and the world oppressor was forced to withdraw ...
Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world.
Cole's translation is as follows:
"The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)." Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope - that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah's government.
It seems to me that Cole is trying to imply that Ahmadinejad is referring solely to the occupation of Jerusalem, and making a metaphysical or metaphorical point rather than an empirical one. But the full text proves definitively otherwise. Ahmadinejad is clearly referring to the "occupation" of the entire land of Israel, not just the West Bank, Gaza or parts or the whole of Jerusalem. He sees it as stretching back 50 years (before Israel controlled all of Jerusalem). He utterly rejects the withdrawal from Gaza or the West Bank as sufficient. And he wants the country wiped off the map - and even erased from the historical record. Cole's rhetorical sleight of hand strikes me as deliberate deception, an attempt to deny the existence of a real genocidal evil in the world that Cole himself knows exists. Why? You decide. But Cole has exposed himself more brutally than Hitch ever could