Ari Moshkovski

Chutzpah in Tehran

The secretary general displayed a rare chutzpah when he walked into Tehran and censured Iran for its racism and genocidal rhetoric

I’ve always been a fan of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. After all, an Orthodox rabbi who can pull off  “Kosher Sex” and follow it up with “Kosher Adultery” has got to be doing something right. He’s brought some fresh (though sometimes wrong-headed) ideas into the Orthodox conversation, and he’s enriched the broader public discourse on society and spirituality in the United States.

Recently, “Rabbi Shmuley” has been talking foreign policy. (I suppose it comes with the territory when you’re running for Congress.) In a recent article for The Times of Israel, Candidate Boteach spoke some difficult truths about the United Nations’ failure to combat genocide, its atrocious record on Israel, and its inexcusable tribute to the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. He also took UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to task for his plans to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran, and called on the US to cut UN funding unless Ban canceled his trip.

In an ideal world, an international organization with 120 member-states and 17 observer states would not choose Iran to hold its chairmanship. In an ideal world, this organization would not choose Tehran to host its highest-level decision-making forum. In an ideal wold, this organization would not enjoy an automatic majority in the United Nations General Assembly.

But we do not live in an ideal world.

And so, the Non-Aligned Movement is transferring the organization’s chairmanship to Iran. Its sixteenth Conference of Heads of State and Governments is taking place in Tehran. And unfortunately, the Secretary General of the United Nations, who leads one of the movement’s observer organizations, is in attendance.

The rationale for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s attendance is clear. The so-called Non-Aligned Movement makes up two-thirds of the UN member-nations, and contributes 80% of UN peacekeeping troops. For better or for worse — and so long as Iran holds the reigns of leadership, it will be for worse — the Non-Aligned Movement matters. It is an actor on the global stage, and simply ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Ban Ki-moon, left, speaking with Ali Khamenei on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)
Ban Ki-moon, left, speaking with Ali Khamenei on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Yet, when Ban Ki-moon took the podium, he made a courageous choice. Instead of appeasing an influential group of UN member-nations with empty rhetoric, he called out the Non-Aligned Movement and Iran on their hypocrisy and gross misconduct. He took the NAM to task for the spread of violent conflict among its members. “Too often,” Ban charged, “conflict has replaced dialogue.” He took special note that as violence in Africa continues, the NAM has utterly failed to ease tensions between its member states.

Ban proceeded to chide the NAM movement over Iran’s racist and genocidal rhetoric:

I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust.


Claiming that another UN member state, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold.

Ban didn’t stop there. Thumbing his nose at the summit’s host-country, Ban took Iran to task over its nuclear program, noting that “it was Iran itself, 38 years ago, that proposed the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.”

The secretary general displayed a rare chutzpah when he walked into Tehran, took the podium in front of 120 heads of state, and censured Iran for its racism, genocidal and politicidal rhetoric, and nuclear perfidy. And it took a special type of chutzpah to call out two-thirds of the UN General Assembly members for their hypocrisy and gross misconduct.

Ban Ki-moon might not have been as blunt as I, or Candidate Boteach, would have liked. Unfortunately, he is a diplomat, not a preacher. Nevertheless, Ban took a bold stand against Iran’s anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and nuclear duplicity. And Ban didn’t do it by posting a blog from the safety and comfort of the ninth congressional district in New Jersey. He did it from a podium in Tehran, smack in the face of the Iranian regime and its allies.

Rabbi Boteach owes Secretary General Ban Ki-moon an apology; the rest of us owe him our gratitude.

About the Author
Ari Moshkovski is a Doctoral Candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He holds an M.A. from Brandeis University, as well as a B.A. and M.A. from Queens College of the City University of New York. At Queens College, he engaged in extensive research and curriculum development on Israel and the Middle East as part of a project funded by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Ford Foundation. Ari was also a co-founder of the Queens College Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding under a grant from the United States Department of Education. Has researched, taught, and lectured on Zionism, Jewish thought, Israeli foreign affairs and security policy, Arab-Israeli diplomacy, and the nexus between religion and politics.