My grandmother was gassed at Auschwitz. My grandfather died of typhus in Theresienstadt. My aunts and uncles, on both my mother and father’s side, were exterminated in Sobibor, Majdanek, and Belzec, along with nine of their children, my first cousins, all under the age of seven.
I am, admittedly, one of those Jews that my Haaretz colleague Anshel Pfeffer describes as being “obsessed” with Iranian President Hassan Rohani's efforts to obfuscate, bypass and sugarcoat his regime’s Holocaust denial and/or distortion. Rohani’s whitewash campaign, I confess, insults me personally.
But Iran’s ongoing Holocaust denial, absolute or partial, is much more than a personal or even collective affront. It is a telltale sign, first and foremost, of the Iranian regime’s abiding anti-Semitism, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum makes clear: “Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests.”
Consequently, if the blatant Holocaust denial of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a clear-cut manifestation of their “hatred of Jews," then the more sterile version of Holocaust distortion offered by Rohani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is but a refined version of the exact same odious sentiment.
And while it may not be a conclusive litmus test for evaluating their commitment to a nuclear arrangement with the West, it is certainly valid to note that they may be playing the same game with their nuclear weapons program as they are with their refusal to accept the Holocaust. That just as they are couching their anti-Semitism in more palatable terms, so they are repackaging Iran’s continued drive to produce nuclear weapons in words that spark less suspicion and elicit less scrutiny.
This is no less a credible claim, to say the least, than the opposite contention that sees the Iranian leadership carrying out a miraculous and instantaneous 180 degree reversal, both in its anti-Semitic ideology and its overall nuclear policy
And by the same token, the willingness of many in the media to isolate one or two catchphrase headlines from complex statements made in New York in recent days by both Rohani and Zarif - or even just one word, as in the spat over whether the Iranian president did or did not utter the explicit word Holocaust on CNN - in order to absolve them, more or less, of Holocaust denial, is grounds enough to suspect that Rohani may be getting a similar free pass when he protests his nuclear innocence.
After all, the headlines in many American and Israeli news outlets eagerly cited Rohani’s condemnation of the Nazis’ “reprehensible crimes against humanity” and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s admittedly courageous disavowal of the “faulty translation” of his Supreme Leader’s website, in which the Holocaust is labeled “a myth." But far less attention was devoted to the intricate maze of caveats, qualifications, riders, disclaimers and fine print that the Iranian leaders attached to their denunciation of the crimes against the Jews, which, when finally navigated, continue to constitute Holocaust denial and distortion.
“I explained that we condemn the crimes by Nazis in the World War II, and regrettably those crimes were committed against many groups, many people. Many people were killed, including a group of Jewish people,” Rohani told the Asia Society and the Council of Foreign Relations on Thursday. Yes, the Nazis killed Jews, but it was nothing special: they killed a lot of people.
And Zarif, speaking on ABC’s "This Week" on Sunday, said that while the word “myth” was mistranslated on Khamenei’s English language website - and has miraculously survived seven years of Western protestations - the gist of the Supreme Leader’s message remains valid: “What is it that people are so upset that somebody is simply asking that we should do some studies of that?”
In other words, what other explanation can there be for the unjust denial of this burning Iranian quest for scientific freedom? Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt defines this disingenuous query as Holocaust deniers “assault on reason.” Otherwise, of course, we’re talking about a good old Jewish conspiracy, another manifestation of their stranglehold on Western society.
And then there is the issue of equivalency, another classic gambit of Holocaust deniers. “The point is," Zarif told George Stephanopoulos, “we condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it's happening in Palestine.” Which is like dispatching three or four birds with one stone: The Israelis are Nazis, the Palestinians are innocents, the Holocaust wasn’t any worse than Israel’s occupation of the territories and, concurrently, Israel’s occupation of the territories is just as horrid as the Holocaust.
And if the Holocaust wasn’t as bad as the Jews made it out to be, but was used as justification to usurp the Palestinians, what justification is there for the continued existence of Israel? And if there is no such justification, what possible objection can the West make to Iran’s wish to see Israel “uprooted from the region, like a cancerous tumor” as Khamenei said on Iranian TV in 2000, in what one assumes was yet another manifestation of that recurring Persian translation bug? Especially when that tumor is, as both Rohani and Zarif repeatedly explained, “the source of all the security and instability in the region?"
So when all the camouflaged Holocaust distortion is taken together with Rohani’s accusations that Israel is the “chief agitator” against Iran and his thinly-veiled insinuations against “war-mongering pressure groups” that are pushing the United States to a confrontation with Tehran, which Zarif described as Israel’s audacity “to lie and mislead the world” - does this not still amount, despite the sugar and spice and everything nice, to a view that “perpetuates long-standing anti-Semitic stereotypes by accusing Jews of conspiracy and world domination, hateful charges that were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Holocaust” as the Holocaust Museum says?
Or to put it another way: even if the Holocaust didn’t really happen, there’s no reason to give up hope for the future.
All of which doesn’t mean, of course, that Iran’s promise to prove its benign intentions should not be patiently explored and, if possible, objectively ascertained.
But it does mean, at least in the eyes of the “obsessed," that Tehran is guilty until proven innocent. That Israel has been given no reason whatsoever to “get over” the Holocaust in its wariness of Iran, as David Landau brilliantly argued here last week.
And that I would personally feel much more comfortable if so many in the American media wouldn’t be rushing so enthusiastically to embrace Rohani with open arms and with smiles on their faces, to the point that 1938 “peace in our time” Munich analogies that used to repel me don’t seem quite so preposterous anymore.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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