Iran’s Jews uneasy over Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad
By Farhad Pouladi
Iran’s Jewish community is solaced that so far, Ahmadinejad’s scorn has only been directed at the State of Israel – and not the Jewish religion itself and its followers
They may not be packing their bags just yet, but Iran’s remaining Jewish minority is feeling deep unease over the fiery rhetoric of their hardline president.
Since his unexpected election last June, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has launched an all-out verbal assault on what he views as an international Zionist conspiracy driven by the ‘myth’ of the Holocaust.
He has labelled Israel as a ‘tumour’ that should be ‘wiped off the map’ or moved as far away as Alaska. Those comments have deepened concern in the West and Israel, where the alarm has already sounded over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Being a minority has its own problems, whether you are a minority in Iran or outside Iran,” said Haroun Yashayaei, the president of Tehran’s 17,000-strong Jewish community.
But he asserted that, so far, Ahmadinejad’s scorn was only directed at the State of Israel – and not the Jewish religion itself and its followers in Iran.
“Honestly speaking, we don’t have any restrictions on holding our religious services. We have our own cemetreies, kosher food, schools and synagogues,” he told AFP.
“This kind of talk has no effect on emigration. We are Iranians. We have been living with the Iranian nation for the past 2,700 years. Judaism is an indigenous religion in Iran. People, including Dr Ahmadinejad, have never taken an aggressive stance against Iranian jews.”
What the community does feel, however, is that its feelings and opinions are being totally ignored when it comes to discussing the Holocaust.
With Iran’s Islamic hardliners controlling the airwaves and happily breaking all historical taboos, Iran’s Jews can only quietly disagree.
“I do not believe it is a myth; it is an historical fact. It is a scar on human civilisation,” asserted Yashayaei.
“If we really want to deny the Holocaust, then we should deny the killings of Sabra and Shatila... Muslims in Kosovo, Halabja, Darfur.”
“What is important for me is that it did happen, not the number of killed people. It doesn’t matter for me if it was a one and a half million or six.”
Last November, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27 as the annual Holocaust memorial day and rejecting any denial that Nazi Germany murderered six million Jews, as well as other victims, during World War II.
But Iran’s regime is swimming against the tide.
Long a fan of Palestinian ‘martyrdom seekers’ (suicide bombers) who official slogans say ‘send Zionists to the netherworld’, it has now embraced the cause of historians who question the true extent of Jewish suffering – and therefore the justification for a Jewish homeland.
One such event was a seminar on Monday entitled ‘The Holocaust: Myth or Reality?’, and organised by a group presenting itself as a pro-Palestinian NGO. “If you go on the Internet and even the newspapers in the West, you see a lot of analysts, politicians and scholars who are supporting Ahmadinejad’s views and his initiative,” said Mohamed Najjar, one of the organisers of the meeting.
“They support him and are inspired by him, because nobody has dared to say it before.”
Although only a handful of people turned up for the meeting, the foreign ministry is planning its own conference on the subject and has offered to send a team of ‘independent investigators’ to visit former Nazi death camps across Europe.
“For half a century, the defenders of the Holocaust have used every tribune to defend their position, and now have to listen to others,” ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has branded Iran’s position on the issue as “shocking, ridiculous, stupid.” And Yashayaei could only lament that his fellow Iranian Jews, who before the Islamic revolution numbered some 80,000, were not being given a platform.
“These gentlemen are saying what they want without listening to the other side. They are not only saying this in their seminars in front of a few people, but they are saying in on the state-run television,” he complained.
“And unfortunately, they have not given us just a second to reply.” afp