Ahmadinejad's Got the Yom Kippur Slot: So What?

According to a House resolution now circulating in Congress, Iran should be condemned for allowing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the UN General Assembly on Yom Kippur. Apparently, for Ahmadinejad to deliver his speech on September 26 would be “not only foolish and offensive, but insensitive,” given that he has made “vicious statements toward world Jewry and the state of Israel” in the past, and that Yom Kippur is “the holiest of all Jewish holidays.” I’m sorry, come again?

It’s one thing to argue that, in light of Ahmadinejad’s track record—anti-Semitic comments, Holocaust denials, repeated threats to both the U.S. and Israel—he should not be allowed to address the UNGA. To dispute his right to speak is, at least, logical (though illegal). But to dispute his right to do so on Yom Kippur makes no sense whatsoever.

The resolution claims that “Jewish people all over the world should be able to observe their holy day in peace,” and that Ahmadinejad’s speech would somehow cramp their style. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for us congregating in our synagogues, opening our prayer books, and observing this day with the focused, meditative attention it deserves. But as someone who plans to do just that, I’ve got to say: if Ahmadinejad does deliver his UNGA address on Yom Kippur as planned, it won’t disrupt my peace one bit.

Sure, Yom Kippur is the most sacred day of the Jewish year, and Jews treat it with a special degree of deference and respect. It’s part of the national story we tell ourselves about how, even though we sometimes commit grievous sins, our sins can be atoned for and forgiven. But does that really mean we’re going to fall all over ourselves if somebody else—somebody who’s not Jewish, and for whom this day therefore holds no such narrative power—does not accord it that same gravitas? Are we, delicate flowers that we are, really going to have our holiday ruined by this?

If you ask me, there’s a weird hubris to the notion that, just because I find a certain day supremely meaningful, other people must also treat it as such.

Another weird thing: last I checked, it’s the office of the General Assembly—not individual member states—that sets the schedule for these speeches. So, instead of “condemning President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” shouldn’t the resolution be condemning the General Assembly’s office itself?

Add to this the fact that Ahmadinejad is a lame duck president—or even, according to some, a “dead duck” president—and you realize that raising a fuss over his Yom Kippur address just gives him more of what he’s so desperately craving: attention. As CNN noted one year ago today, the Iranian leader “seems to relish the global spotlight of the UN General Assembly.” Thanks to this resolution, he’ll enjoy an even brighter spotlight this time around.

Luckily, I’ll be spending the holiday in peaceful reflection, so I’ll be blissfully unaware.