As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares for an address to the UN General Assembly that will likely be incendiary as usual, there is a movement to use a new lever against Iran—the Genocide Convention. In several major publications, Irwin Cotler, a Canadian MP and former Minister of Justice, has led the charge, arguing that recent anti-Semitic rhetoric and calls for the end of Israel constitute incitement of genocide, so the Security Council should refer them to the International Criminal Court and a number of other international bodies. A U.S. Senate resolution currently in committee (S. Res. 574) follows the same line.
Indicting Ahmadinejad for the incitement of genocide would hardly be unjust. His speech at last month's Quds Day observations—some featuring flaming Stars of David—rehashed the conspiracy theories in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; he told reporters on Monday that Israel is a “minimal disturbance” in history that will be “eliminated.” Ahmadinejad may not explicitly call for a second Holocaust, but comes close enough. Myths and fabrications like those he peddles helped motivate previous atrocities against the Jews.
However, indictment offers neither diplomatic progress for America nor punishment for Iran’s president. The international legal system is hardly an eager defender of Israel, and is extraordinarily slow to act (Charles Taylor was indicted after the Sierra Leone war had ended and sentenced a decade later, Slobodan Milosevic and other Yugoslav indictees died before a verdict could be reached). France and Britain are unlikely to indict as long as there is even a slight chance of success in negotiations; Russia and China are unlikely to indict as long as the sky is blue (or brown-gray in Beijing). The Senate’s bid to use a measure without legal force to send a man beyond their reach to a court they do not recognize is unlikely to spur serious action.
Though the resolution enjoys bipartisan support, it could be a foretaste of a troubling partisan possibility. While it is natural to expect liberal internationalist institutions like the Obama administration’s Atrocity Prevention Board to wither or vanish in a neoconservative or realist administration, S. Res. 574 could offer a rhetorical framework for their adaptation to neoconservative ends.