The U.S., Israel and "Anti-Semitic" Iran. Part 2: Khamenei, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust

Ayatollah Khamenei and Differentiation between Opposing Israel and Anti-Semitism

Similar to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei differentiates between opposition to Israel's government and anti-Semitism. Consider the following four examples of his statements:

In a meeting with the French philosopher Roger Garaudy on 21 April 1998, Ayatollah Khamenei said,

"There is no religious prejudice in the struggle of the Iranian nation against the United States and Israel. We do not view Judaism negatively and with bigotry. Jews are living comfortably in the Islamic Iran."

In a meeting with the senior officials of the Islamic Republic on 5 April 1999, Khamenei said,

"When those who opposed the rule of Imam Ali [Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and the Shiites' first Imam] stole an anklet(some sort of jewelry for foot) from the foot of a Jewish woman, the Imam said: if all Muslim men die due to the grief caused by this thievery, he will not blame them [meaning that stealing even a small piece of jewelryfrom the foot of a Jewish woman under the Imam's rule was unacceptable]. The Imam [Ali] did not exaggerate. He said if he died by that grief, he could not be blamed. This is what the Islamic government is all about."

In another meeting with senior Iranian officials on 10 July 2000, Khamenei said,

"Fortunately, we have [peaceful] co-existence of various religions in our nation. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians live side by side with their [their] Muslims [compatriots] in our Islamic country, work with us and have a role to play [in the affairs of the state]. They have [national] duties and, of course, the Islamic government also has duties toward them as Iranian citizens that must carry out and it does. We have no complaints about our religious minorities. When Iran's enemies spread false propaganda against the Islamic Republic, our Jewish citizens issue statements [against it]."

In a meeting with the senior officials and the Islamic nations' ambassadors to Iran on 7 June 2013, the Supreme Leader said,

"There was a time when the Islamic world was confronting the usurper Zionism; [our] enemies would say that this is anti-Semitism, whereas it was not. In the Islamic countries, Jews live like other adherents of religions, Islam and Christianity. We have Jews, Christians, and Muslims in our country, there are other religions too, and they all live together [in peace]. The discussion is not about anti-Semitism, but about the brutal, aggressor usurper Zionists. They falsely present this as anti-Semitism."

In his speech, Khamenei emphasized four points. (1) He denied the accusation of being anti-Semitic, referring to it as lies. He also denied that he has a negative view of the Jews. (2) He declared peaceful co-existence of all religions as a fat and defended it as a human value. (3) He declared that Iranian Jews have rights equal to adherents of other recognized religions in Iran, such as Islam. (4) He also declared that if injustice is done to a Jew in an Islamic Society, Muslims should die of grief over the injustice.

The Islamic Republic of Iran and Israel

Undoubtedly, all officials of the Islamic Republic have been and are opposed to Israel. Opposing Israel's existence is part of the ideology of the Islamic Republic, and gives it legitimacy. At the same time, the same ideology is used to suppress the domestic opponents. Even the leaders of the Green Movement, who were senior officials of the state in the past, were accused of being agent of Israel and its intelligence agency, the Mossad, or at least supported by them.

Iranian officials consider all the historic Palestine as belonging to the Palestinian people, and have advocated formation of a single state in the entire land. As I discussed elsewhere, when Khamenei speaks about "destruction" of Israel, he means only holding a referendum, akin to what happened in South Africa for transferring power from the white minority to the black majority, so that all the residents of the historic land can vote. Iran has not been after physical destruction of Israel. At the same time, many Iranian leaders, such as former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, have said repeatedly that any resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians that is acceptable to the latter is also acceptable to Iran.

It is in fact Iran that is constantly threatened by Israel. The threat of a war between the two nations emanates from Israel, in response to which Iran has repeatedly declared that if it is attacked, it will defend itself and react harshly. But, the press only reports the part about Iran attacking Israel to defend itself. Just recently, Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Defense Minister, even threatened Iran with nuclear attack. Where was the press' reaction to the threat?

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Holocaust

Khatami, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the current President Hassan Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have all stated that that by denying the Holocaust, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad harmed Iran's national interests.

Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly protested the fact that Western leaders consider insulting Prophet Muhammad and Muslims as part of freedom of expression, but have outlawed denial of Holocaust, or even expressing doubts about it. Khamenei does not deny the Nazis' crimes against Jews, but believes that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis has been exaggerated. He has said,

"It is possible that the gas chambers claimed by the Jews did not exist, but [Adolf] Hitler's crimes [against Jews] cannot be denied," adding, "If anyone questions the Holocaust, the entire [Western] state is organized against him, the government, the courts, the press. But, when Prophet Muhammad is insulted [in the same country], not only do they not protest it, but also support it. This is what they call human rights."

In another speech, Khamenei said

, "If someone protests the Holocaust myth in a [Western] country, saying that he rejects it [its occurrence], they imprison him and convict him of denying a supposedly historical event. Let us assume that it [the Holocaust] was real. Why is denying a fact an [punishable] offense? Why should someone be incarcerated because a [historical] fact remained unproven to him, and he denied it [its occurrence] or expressed doubts about it? This is what is happening in advanced Western countries."

In a speech to the Iranian navy cadets on 18 September 2013, Khamenei said,

"In many Western countries no one dares to cast doubt about the questionable Holocaust event."

Most recently, in a speech on 21 March 2014, on the occasion of the beginning of the new Iranian year, Khamenei declared,

"You see, no one dares to question [the existence] of the Holocaust in Western Europe, an event that is not even clear that it did happen. If it [the Holocaust] is true, it is not clear how it happened. Casting doubts about the Holocaust is one of the most important offenses [in Western nations]; they prevent it, arrest the denier, imprison him, and put him on trial, [while] they also claim to support freedom [of expression]."

There are two fundamental problems with Khamenei's position vis-à-vis Holocaust. Denying it or casting doubts on it is immoral and inhumane, and by denying the Holocaust he has provided the Israeli leaders with the best excuse to mobilize Western powers against Iran. Without intending it, Khamenei has served Israel's interests well.

Others in Iran have, however, spoken about the Holocaust catastrophe, and have harshly condemned its denial. For example, after Khamenei referred to the Holocaust as a "myth" in a speech to the air force officers on 7 February 2006, in a long article entitled "two aspects of denying the Holocaust," Mohammad Reza Nikfar, an atheist Iranian intellectual who supports toppling the Islamic Republic, criticized in the harshest possible way those who deny the Holocaust.

In an interview last April, Rafsanjani referred to the Holocaust as "an important historical event in which the Nazis used utter violence." He added that by denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad changed the discourse about Iran and the Palestinians, giving Israel an excuse to claim that Iran intends to create another Holocaust. President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly condemned the Nazis' crimes and the Holocaust as a crime against humanity.

Many book and novels about the Holocaust have been translated into Farsi and published in Iran. Chapter five of Stephen Eric Bronner's book, Reclaiming the Enlightenment , which has been published in Iran, is about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. These issues have also been discussed inHans Küng's Tracing the Way: Spiritual Dimensions of World's Religions, John Rawls' The Law of Peoples, Robert C. Holub's Jürgen Habermas: Critic in the Public Sphere, and Christian Delacampagne's A History of Philosophy in the Twentieth Century , all of which have been published in Iran. Several novels that are about the lives of Jews under the Nazi regime have also been published in Iran, including Heinrich Boll's Group Portrait with Lady and Fred Uhlman's Reunion. In his outstanding book, Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl presented a report on the lives of the Jews in the Nazis' death camps, which has been one of the most read books in Iran.

Books that are to be published in Iran must receive permit from the government. Books are also censored, as is the press. Many newspapers and other publications have also been banned in Iran. Thus, if Khamenei wanted to impose his own view of the Holocaust on others, he could easily do so by not allowing books about the Holocaust and suffering of the Jews to be published in Iran.

In two interviews with the CNN and PBS President Rouhani also condemned the Holocaust. He told the PBS ,

"We condemned the Nazis crimes against the Jews and others. Why should we deny [the Holocaust]? We do not deny the Nazis crimes, we condemn them."

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went even further and not only condemned the Holocaust, but also attributed the "myth of Holocaust" to false translation of what Khamenei had said.