Iranian President Hassan Rohani on CNN
Iranian President Hassan Rohani givse interview to CNN, September 24, 2013. Photo by CNN Screenshot
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In a new statement that is sure to stir widespread debate in Jewish circles, Iranian President Hassan Rohani has classified the Holocaust as a “reprehensible crime against humanity”, but added that it is “up to historians to reflect on its dimensions.”

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, parts of which were aired on Tuesday night, Rohani struck a tone that departed dramatically from the outright Holocaust-denials of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But whether he went far enough to satisfy Jewish critics remains to be seen.

“I’ve said before that I am not a historian,” Rohani said, according to his translator, in response to Amanpour’s question about Ahmadinejad’s views on the Holocaust. “And when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is historians that should reflect on it.”

“But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed against the Jews, is reprehensible. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn. Taking a life and it makes no difference whether that life is a Jewish life, Christian or Muslim – for us it is the same.”

But Rohani went on to add that such a crime does not justify “usurping and occupying someone else’s land – this too is reprehensible.”

Rohani’s statement is certainly a marked departure from that of his predecessor, but may not be enough to meet the strict definition of disavowing Holocaust denial.

According to the Holocaust History Project, there are three main elements to the claims of Holocaust deniers: "First, they contend that, while mass murders of Jews did occur there was no official Nazi policy to murder Jews. Second they contend that there were no homicidal gas chambers, particularly at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where mainstream historians believe over 1 million Jews were murdered, primarily in gas chambers. And third they contend that the death toll of European Jews during World War II was well below 6 million. Deniers float numbers anywhere between 300,000 and 1.5 million, as a general rule.”

By these strict criteria, Rohani might still be considered a Holocaust-denier, albeit a much smoother one than Ahmadinejad. The debate, one way or another, will surely continue.