Ahmadinejad, Iran, and Holocaust Manipulation: Methods, Aims, and Reactions

, February 1, 2007

No. 551   February 2007

  • The conference on the Holocaust held in Tehran on 11-12 December 2006 was a further step in Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s genocidal strategy against Israel. His extreme hate propaganda had first drawn international attention in October 2005, a few months after he was elected, when he called for the elimination of Israel.
  • During the riots about the Danish Mohammed cartoons in February 2006, the leading Iranian daily Hamashahri, owned by the Tehran municipality, announced a Holocaust-cartoon competition. It opened in August 2006. Many of the over two hundred cartoons selected from 1,100 entries were from non-Muslim countries. Holocaust inversion was a frequent theme. Most other main anti-Semitic motifs, such as demonization of the Jews, deicide, conspiracy theories of world domination, blood libel, infanticide, zoomorphism, and so on were represented in the cartoon collection.
  • At the Tehran Holocaust conference, deniers from thirty countries were present. It was organized by the Foreign Office’s Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS). At its opening Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that questioning the Holocaust is one more way of attacking the United States, along with others such as criticizing the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The genocidal attacks on Israel and the distortion of Holocaust history should be seen as part of Ahmadinejad’s overall political agenda concerning the West and Israel. They derive from his apocalyptic Islamic ideology. Iranian Holocaust manipulation is therefore likely to continue as long as he is in power. Ahmadinejad and his supporters will resort to Holocaust distortion whenever they see fit.

I. Ahmadinejad’s Initial Holocaust Denial

A few months after he was elected in June 2005, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad started to make genocidal calls against Israel, which he has renewed regularly since. A few months later he started to deny the Holocaust repeatedly.

 

A conference focusing on Holocaust denial and minimization, titled the “International Conference on Review of the Holocaust Global Vision,” was held on 11-12 December 2006 in Tehran. It was one more step in Ahmadinejad’s genocidal strategy against Israel. The organizer was the Foreign Office’s Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) headed by Rasul Mosavi. The conference was opened by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki who said that questioning the Holocaust is one more way of attacking the United States, along with others such as criticizing the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.1

 

He also claimed that: “if the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt. And if, during this review, it is proved that the Holocaust was a historical reality, then what is the reason for the Muslim people of the region and the Palestinians having to pay the cost of the Nazis’ crimes?”2 Mottaki conveniently did not mention the failed genocidal 1948 war of several Arab states and Palestinians against Israel, which is at the origin of the Palestinians’ current situation.

World without Zionism

The first time Ahmadinejad’s extreme anti-Israeli hate propaganda drew international attention was when he addressed the “World without Zionism” conference at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on 26 October 2005. There he quoted Imam Khomeini who had said: “This regime that is occupying Quds [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history,”3 a typical expression for Israel’s destruction.

 

Ahmadinejad repeated these calls on many later occasions in more or less similar terms.4He also asked for the removal of Israel from the Middle East, suggesting it be placed in Germany or Austria. Western diplomatic reactions were almost exclusively verbal.

 

Ahmadinejad’s statements are a public incitement to genocide and thus contravene international law. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide came into force on 12 January 1951. It has been ratified by 138 states, among them Iran. As Justus Weiner noted,

 

The Genocide Convention defines the crime of genocide, and stipulates that certain acts related to genocide are punishable. One of these prohibited acts is incitement to commit genocide. By including this as a crime the drafters sought to create an autonomous breach of international law, which is an inchoate crime—a crime in the absence of any substantive offence having been committed or consummated. Thus, in order to succeed in a case of incitement, a prosecutor need not prove that genocide has in fact transpired. It is sufficient to prove that incitement to genocide has occurred.5

Denying the Holocaust

Ahmadinejad’s public Holocaust denial started in December 2005 when he gave a press conference in Mecca where he attended an extraordinary meeting of the fifty-seven members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This meeting was devoted to the Muslim world’s need to fight—according to Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal—against sentiments of hatred toward Islam. It was meant to be a show of Muslim moderation toward the outside world.

 

On 8 December, Ahmadinejad said: “Certain European countries insist on saying that Hitler has killed millions of Jews in gas chambers. They go so far as to say that whoever states the contrary must be condemned and thrown into prison.”

 

He denied that the Holocaust had occurred: “We do not believe this assertion, but even if it were true, we ask the Europeans the following question: is the murder of innocent Jews by Hitler the reason for the support of the occupiers of Jerusalem?” Ahmadinejad added: “The Europeans should offer part of their territory, from Germany, Austria, or other countries, so that the Jews can install their state there.”6

 

In January 2006, it was announced that the Iranian government intended to hold an international conference on the Holocaust.7

Western Reactions

Ahmadinejad’s words sparked many negative reactions in the West. All were verbal, as had also been the case after his genocidal threats to Israel. Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel considered Ahmadinejad’s remarks only “an incident” and spoke of an “incredible derailment.” He noted that Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria.8

 

On 13 December, Ahmadinejad repeated his Holocaust denial in Zahedan in southeastern Iran. There he also said that the Europeans “created a myth in the name of the Holocaust and valued that higher than God, religion and the prophets.”9 His words were broadcast on Iranian television. Since then he and other Iranian officials have expressed several variations on the same core motif.

 

One somewhat surprising reaction came from the head of the Iranian Jewish community, Harun Yeshayai. In a letter to Ahmadinejad he said the small community of Iranian Jews was horrified by the Iranian public media’s daily denial of Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jews.10

 

He did not mention Ahmadinejad’s own denial, and in the letter manipulated the Holocaust himself by saying: “It is true that the Zionists have been exploiting the Holocaust to pose as victims and there is historic evidence about some radical Zionist groups collaborating with the Fascists and Nazis to intensify the Holocaust.” The tone of the letter, and the protest mixed with this and other historical distortions, reflect the reality of the Jewish situation in Iran.

II. The Holocaust-Cartoon Competition  (This section was jointly authored with Hildegunn Hansen.)

The next major Iranian outburst concerning the Holocaust came on the occasion of riots in several Muslim countries in February 2006. These were belated reactions to the Danish Mohammed cartoons.11 The major daily Hamashahri, which is controlled by the Tehran municipality, announced an international cartoon competition on the Holocaust. It was cosponsored by the House of Caricatures, an exhibition hall for cartoons in Tehran.12

 

Thus, as usual, Holocaust manipulation by government authorities is not the work of one man. When then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan expressed his concern about the exhibition, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the planned conference would go ahead and, since the Holocaust was a scientific issue, both confirmers and deniers of its historicity could participate. He told reporters: “I have visited the Nazi camps in Eastern Europe. I think it is exaggerated.”13

The Cartoon-Competition Entrants

Over two hundred cartoons were selected among 1,100 entries from over sixty countries for the exhibition, which opened in August 2006. Several portray Israel as having taken the place of the Nazis. The Palestinians are often depicted as suffering Nazi-like or even worse treatment by the Israelis.

 

Other cartoons convey the message that Israel exploits the Holocaust, either as a weapon against the Palestinians or as a tool to get sympathy from the world. Still other cartoons indicate that the Holocaust is a hoax or grossly exaggerated.

 

Others exploit classic anti-Semitic motifs such as the alleged extreme evil of the Jews, deicide, conspiracy theories of world domination, blood libel, infanticide, zoomorphism, and so on. Some contain more than one anti-Semitic motif. Several are not related to the Holocaust. Some cartoons proclaim that Israel does not want peace, while others attack the West.

Anti-Semitic Stereotypes

This cartoon collection shows once more how anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism overlap. Cartoonists mingle supposed Israeli and Jewish characteristics in their pictures. Caricaturists from Muslim countries often depict Jews as ultra-Orthodox, with black hats and sidelocks. Those from other countries frequently draw Israeli soldiers.

 

Many cartoons center on the core, centuries-old anti-Semitic theme that Jews—and nowadays Israel—represent absolute evil. These caricatures cover almost all categories of anti-Semitic lies and stereotypes as analyzed and defined by Arieh Stav14 and Joel Kotek.15The latter pointed out that: “The collective image of the Jews created by Arab cartoons lays the groundwork for a possibility of genocide.”16

 

Many cartoons entered in the competition were from non-Arab and non-Muslim countries such as Belgium, Brazil, China, Greece, India, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the United States. Many cartoonists had non-Muslim names.17

Holocaust Inversion

Holocaust inversion is a frequent and extreme anti-Semitic motif. Several cartoons in the competition give the message that Israel is perpetrating a Holocaust against the Palestinians. The Moroccan cartoonist Naji Benaji went even further by suggesting that Israel behaved toward the Palestinians worse than the Germans treated the Jews during World War II. He was awarded a special prize for his drawing of two bottles. One, on which “Holocaust” is written, contains a few skulls; the second carries the Palestinian flag and is filled with skulls.

 

 

Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian caricaturist is mentioned by Kotek as a well-known anti-Semitic cartoonist who has been producing such works for many years.18 He won a shared second prize in the Tehran competition for a cartoon that shows an Arab as a concentration-camp inmate.

 

 

The Algerian Choukri Bellahadi drew an Israeli flag turning into one with a swastika.

 

 

In the Serb Slobodan Trifkovic’s cartoon, a swastika turns into a Star of David in stages. The competition’s first prize went to Abdellah Derkaoui of Morocco, whose entry shows a crane placing a wall, with a concentration camp painted on it, in front of the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. This combines several false motifs of the Palestinian narrative.

 

 

Holocaust Exploitation and Denial

One among several cartoons showing “Holocaust exploitation” is by Abdolfazl Mohtarami of Iran, who depicts an ugly-looking, bearded Jew rolling a carpet with the word Holocaust over a bleeding Arab woman.

 

 

Another cartoon by the Iranian Maziyar Bizhani shows a Jew—dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb—milking the “European cow.” The word Holocaust is written on the milking tool, and the milk container bears a Star of David.

 

A cartoon by A-Chard of France, which won a shared second prize, contains explicit Holocaust denial. He shows a panel of smoking gas chambers lying on the ground. On its side is written “The myth of the gas chambers.” An ultra-Orthodox Jew asks, “Who has put it on the ground?” and somebody answers, “Faurisson,” referring to a notorious French Holocaust denier. A-Chard is a regular cartoonist for Rivarol, a French extreme-Right publication.19

 

Hossein Taheri of Iran shows a devilish-looking figure with a kippa with a Star of David on it, mixing “hollow” and “caustic” to produce “Holocaust.” Sharam Rezai of Iran won the third prize with a drawing that shows Nazi soldiers burying paper dolls—rather than bodies—in a mass grave.

Deicide and Demonization

The accusation that the Jews killed God’s son is a recurrent motif in Arab cartoons. It is borrowed from Christian culture, since Jesus in Islam is not God’s son but a prophet. The Jordanian Jihad Awrtani combines two anti-Semitic motifs by drawing a bleeding Arab crucified on a cross made of the letter T from “Holocaust.”

 

 

 

A second cartoon of his invokes another Christian motif, showing a nail inscribed with the word Holocaust piercing a vein in an arm with the blood spurting.

 

 

Hou Xiao Qiang of China draws a white dove crucified on a Star of David against a black background.

 

Abdolhossein Amirizadeh of Iran demonizes Jews by showing a horned devil with vampire fingers reading from a book on which “Holocaust” is written. Next to him is a staff in the form of a seven-branched candelabra topped by a Star of David.

Blood Libel, Infanticide, and Zoomorphism

Several caricatures direct the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel at Israel. Sadic Pala of India depicts a stylized ultra-Orthodox Jew with sidelocks, vampire teeth, and a Star of David on his lapel sucking blood from an infusion bag, which says “Palestinian blood.”

 

 

Another related anti-Semitic motif is that Jews need to kill children. One of the cartoons submitted by Latuff shows a can of gasoline with a Star of David on it being poured on a burning Arab child.

 

 

Another widespread anti-Semitic motif is that Jews are subhuman and thus should be depicted as animals. The Iranian Mehdi Sadeghi drew a beetle with a Star of David on its back pushing along a giant ball of excrement with a swastika on it. It is a new variation on the Nazi motif of showing the Jews as vermin.

 

The zoomorphism theme also appears in a cartoon by Pala that portrays a religious Jew with vampire teeth next to a vampire bat hanging from a branch above the Al-Aksa Mosque.

 

 

Another cartoon by the Syrian Nedal Ali Deep shows a Jew as a dog with vampire teeth on a leash held by an American hand, with the globe giving the dog Palestine in the form of a piece of meat. Kotek’s research on cartoons has shown that only Jews are depicted as vampires.20

 

 

Controlling and Corrupting the World, Not Wanting Peace

 

Yet another classic anti-Semitic motif is that Jews attempt to control the world. Cartoonist Deep shows America looking through a telescope, with the word Holocaust on it, at the back of an ultra-Orthodox Jew holding the world in his hand. Khaldoon Gharaibeh of Jordan turns the “L” of Israel into a boot that squashes the globe.

 

 

The same caricaturist shows an ultra-Orthodox Jew holding the world on a leash.

 

Another cartoon by Deep shows, with the caption “Help for the Palestinians,” how American financial aid is thrown into a bottle with a Star of David on it.

 

Another recurrent motif is that Israel does not want peace. For instance, Chang An Yong of China drew a dove chained within a Star of David.

 

Although the Holocaust-cartoon competition was not directly linked to the Ahmadinejad national government, the fact that, as noted earlier, it was sponsored by a paper owned by the Tehran municipality further illustrates how various branches of the government support distortion and manipulation.

III. The Tehran Holocaust Conference

The December 2006 Holocaust conference in Tehran mainly assembled a variety of Holocaust deniers and minimizers. A list of participants was published by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies.21 Among those attending were the German-born Fredrick Toben22—who has been jailed there—and Michele Renouf, both from Australia, Frenchman Georges Theil,23 Veronica Clark from the United States, and the Canadian Shiraz Dossa, professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.24 Among the better known were the retired French literature professor Robert Faurisson25 and former American Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. As was widely reported in the Arab world, some extreme ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Neturei Karta sect also attended.26

 

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced that “intellectuals” and “researchers” from thirty countries attended the event. Literature handed out at the conference described the Holocaust as “one of the most important propaganda tools to politically justify the support for the Jewish people in the 20th century.”27

 

Most meetings during the conference were closed ones. Ahmadinejad, who was one of the speakers, said among other things: “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.”28

 

It was announced at the conference that a “new world foundation for Holocaust studies” would be established. Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Ali Ramin was appointed its secretary-general. He had said about the Jews in May 2006: “Throughout history, this religious group has inflicted the most damage on the human race.”29 A few weeks later he indicated the future direction of Iranian Holocaust manipulation when he said Hitler was the son of a Jewish prostitute and his policies aimed at establishing a Jewish state.30

International Reactions

The Tehran conference was widely condemned in the West. A statement by White House press secretary Tony Snow “noted the meeting coincided with International Human Rights Week, which renews the pledges of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted in the wake of World War II atrocities.”31

 

French president Jacques Chirac ordered Justice Minister Pascal Clement to carry out an investigation of statements made by Faurisson at a press conference in Tehran. Clement asked Paris prosecutors whether Faurisson could be prosecuted under a 1990 French law making it a crime to deny the Holocaust.32

 

The incoming United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon stated: “Denying historical facts especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust is just not acceptable.” He weakened his condemnation by adding: “Whenever and when the situation requires me to do so, I am prepared to engage in dialogue with the Iranian people.” Moon left open the possibility of a visit to Tehran.33

 

After the Tehran conference, forty European and North American research institutes declared that they would suspend contacts with IPIS. Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and president of the Geneva Center for Security Policy, announced this decision. Other signatories of the statement included John J. Hamre, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Volker Perthes, director of Berlin’s Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Tomas Ries, director of the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, Eugeniusz Smolnar, director of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, and Thierry de Montbrial, director of the French Institute of International relations. The European and North American institutes will refuse to participate in IPIS meetings and will not invite its staff to their conferences.34

 

Emory University in Atlanta announced that it was planning an enhanced website that would make information on the Holocaust available in Farsi, Arabic, Russian, and other languages. Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, an expert on Holocaust denial, said the site would provide resources to people who cannot find information on the Holocaust in these languages.35

 

In January 2007, Germany proposed that European Union member states adopt a uniform law to make Holocaust denial a criminal offense. That same month Italy adopted such a law, which already existed in a number of EU countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and Spain. It is yet unclear how far-reaching such a law, if adopted, would be.

 

On 26 January 2007—one day before the UN’s International Day of Commemoration in memory of victims of the Holocaust—the 192-member UN General Assembly approved a resolution by consensus, introduced by the United States. It condemned “without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” It did not mention any country. Iran reacted by stating that the Holocaust should be examined to determine its scope. The delegate from Venezuela, while accepting the resolution, distorted the Holocaust by saying that Israel’s “excesses under the pretext of legitimate defense has led to a new holocaust against the Palestinian people.”36

Media Reactions

Many Western media also condemned the conference and in news reports from Tehran described the attendants as fringe people with extremist views. An article in the Los Angeles Times discussed in detail the Muslim collaboration with Nazis during the Holocaust in Palestine, Tunisia, and Bosnia.37

 

Some major media reported differently. Tamar Sternthal, the Israeli representative of the CAMERA media-watch organization, discussed a news story by Nazila Fathi in theInternational Herald Tribune that “granted [the conference discussion] the same legitimacy and credibility as what Fathi terms ‘the accepted version of events’ surrounding the Nazi genocide of Jews. At no point in the article does Fathi state as fact that millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazis, and that those who claim otherwise are liars.” The New York Timesran the same article but edited it to mention the facts of the Holocaust. Sternthal compared the two articles in some detail.38

 

An editorial on the conference in The Guardian took the opportunity to slip in its extreme pro-Palestinian bias. Although condemning Iran, The Guardian asserted: “it is legitimate to question the tenets of Zionism and fair to see Palestinians as its victims. Suggesting that Auschwitz was a ‘big lie’ concocted to serve Jewish interests is not.” 39

 

This is standard fare for this paper, which did not mention that the Palestinians are primarily the victims of their own murderous proclivities that have permeated their society since well before World War II, motivating them to take part in a failed genocidal war against Israel in 1948. After 1967 they refused for twenty-five years to negotiate for a Palestinian state that they could have had in 1948 without a single shot.

 

Guardian caricaturist Steve Bell drew Prime Minister Tony Blair sitting in a pile of excrement and holding his nose while pointing a finger toward Ahmadinejad sitting in a similar pile. The cartoon implies moral equivalence between the two.40

Widespread Denial in the Arab World

Historical revisionism and Holocaust denial have been widely disseminated in the Arab world for many years. Goetz Nordbruch, who has researched this subject, observes: “Well-documented studies have shown that Holocaust denial can be found in the majority of Arabic newspapers, but detailed surveys of the social and historical background of this phenomenon are still missing.”41 Arab authors often describe the Holocaust as a “historical myth” that enabled the establishment of Israel. Their aim is to deconstruct the Holocaust, since they believe that such distortions also remove the historical basis for Israel’s existence.

 

British historian David Cesarani noted that: “in 1964 Gamal Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt, told a West German newspaper that he opposed ‘the lie of the six million.’” Cesarani added: “The Zayed Centre, associated with the Arab League, held a Holocaust denial symposium in Abu Dhabi in 2002.”42 Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is yet another Arab politician who has denied the Holocaust.43

 

Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), president of the Palestinian Authority, is a Holocaust denier as well. His 1982 doctoral dissertation at the Oriental College in Moscow discussed “the secret ties between the Nazis and the Zionist Movement leadership.” In his study in Arabic based on this dissertation that was published in Amman in 1984, Abbas adduced well-known Holocaust deniers, raised doubts that gas chambers were used to exterminate Jews, and claimed that the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust might be “even less than a million.” Abbas also wrote that the Zionists believed in the purity of the Jewish race as Hitler believed in the purity of the Aryan race.44

Muslim Reactions

After the Tehran gathering, another Holocaust-denial conference, “The Holocaust Lie,” was held in Cairo on 27 December. It was convened by the Arab Socialist party. One speaker was Waheed al-Uksory, who had been this party’s candidate in the most recent presidential elections.45

 

The limited number of Muslim reactions to the Holocaust conference included some condemnations. Some commentators noted the absurdity of a conference in Tehran supposedly promoting freedom of speech on the Holocaust, since there is no such freedom on many other matters in Iran.46

 

Among those condemning the conference were the sheikhs of the Islamic Movement in Israel.47 Attorney Khaled Mahamid, an Israeli Arab from Nazareth who founded a Holocaust museum and wanted to attend the conference to confront the deniers, was denied a visa by the organizers.48

 

The Anti-Defamation League praised the existence of an Arab museum in Israel commemorating the Holocaust but was very critical of some of its messages:

 

The Anti-Defamation League is deeply concerned that founder and curator Khaled Mahamid has based certain elements of his Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education museum on the false premise that the Palestinian people are paying the price for European guilt over the Holocaust by having what they believe is an illegitimate Jewish state in the heart of the Arab world.

 

By placing the PLO flag at the museum as well as posters of Palestinian refugees and photos of Palestinian victims of violence juxtaposed next to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Mr. Mahamid also seeks to create a totally inappropriate connection between the plight of the Palestinians and the Jewish Holocaust victims. This approach undoes much of the benefit the museum could have.49

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The situation in the Muslim world with respect to Holocaust history was well summed up by secular Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch liberal parliamentarian now living in the United States. She wrote in reaction to the conference:

 

As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, I remember my teachers, my mom and our neighbors telling us practically on a daily basis that Jews are evil, the sworn enemies of Muslims, and that their only goal was to destroy Islam. We were never informed about the Holocaust.

 

Later, as a teenager in Kenya, when Saudi and other Persian Gulf philanthropy reached us, I remember that the building of mosques and donations to hospitals and the poor went hand in hand with the cursing of Jews. Jews were said to be responsible for the deaths of babies and for epidemics such as AIDS, and they were believed to be the cause of wars. They were greedy and would do absolutely anything to kill us Muslims.

 

Hirsi Ali added:

 

What’s striking about Ahmadinejad’s conference is the (silent) acquiescence of mainstream Muslims. I cannot help but wonder: Why is there no counter-conference in Riyadh, Cairo, Lahore, Khartoum or Jakarta condemning Ahmadinejad? Why are the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference silent on this?

 

Could the answer be as simple as it is horrifying: For generations the leaders of these so-called Muslim countries have been spoon-feeding their populations a constant diet of propaganda similar to the one that generations of Germans (and other Europeans) were fed—that Jews are vermin and should be dealt with as such? In Europe the logical conclusion was the Holocaust. If Ahmadinejad had his way, he should not want for compliant Muslims ready to act on his wish.50

Israeli and Jewish Reactions

There were many Israeli and Jewish condemnations of the conference. Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik sent a letter to 145 parliaments asking them to “send a clear and urgent message that such behavior can no longer be tolerated by the family of nations.” Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni asserted: “The Iranian problem is not just a problem for the State of Israel, it’s a problem for anyone who values democracy and the free world.”51

 

Yosef Lapid, a former Israeli justice minister and currently chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, said the conference was an attempt “to pave the way psychologically” for the Western world that another Holocaust is possible. He added that Ahmadinejad was following in the footsteps of Joseph Goebbels, whose propaganda turned the Jews into parasites deserving to be murdered.52

 

In ultra-Orthodox circles there was much criticism of the Neturei Karta representatives who attended the conference. It was stressed that they were outcasts in the ultra-Orthodox community and did not have the support of any important rabbi. Some called them “deranged.” Also various groups of the extremist Satmar Hasidim publicly condemned the Neturei Karta participants.53

IV. The Future

There is some speculation about how denial and distortion of the Holocaust fit Ahmadinejad’s political agenda. A number of aims seem to intermingle.

 

The first is that he believes the veracity of the Holocaust can be undermined. Ahmadinejad and his associates think the Holocaust is the sole moral justification for Israel’s existence. Hence, raising doubt about it is an important step toward justifying a future attempt to destroy the country when Iran obtains nuclear weapons.

 

A second likely aim of the Iranian president is to enhance his standing in the Muslim world, which is so widely permeated with lies about the Holocaust. This may boost his position at a time when Ahmadinejad’s popularity at home is declining, as reflected in his supporters’ losses in the local elections of December 2006. Iranians visiting abroad say that in taxis in Tehran people do not hesitate to criticize the regime. “This even when a person with a beard is present,” as one former senior executive put it to this author.

 

One public instance of criticism came when—at the time of the Holocaust-denial conference—Iranian students heckled Ahmadinejad during a visit to Amir Kabir University at Tehran and burned his picture. There were chants of “Death to the dictator,” “Forget America and start thinking about us,” as well as a banner: “Fascist president, the polytechnic is not for you.”54

 

In January, more than half of Iran’s 290 members of parliament signed a letter accusing Ahmadinejad of wasting the country’s oil income and stressing that the government should reduce expenditures.55 The dissatisfaction with the regime of the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad, however, does not imply its imminent fall since no structured democratic opposition exists. The best realistic alternative to the current president is one with the same theocratic outlook but slightly less extreme and apocalyptic.

 

Ahmadinejad’s main rival is former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is billed by The Guardian and many other media as a “pragmatic conservative.”56 One might recall that this extremist was the first Iranian president to threaten Israel with annihilation through the use of an atomic bomb.57

 

A third aim of Ahmadinejad is to raise his profile in the anti-American and anti-Western struggle. Denying the Holocaust shows that he has no fear of any taboos. He has visited many countries since he came to power, and outside the West remains persona grata. In his January 2007 trip to Latin America he met the presidents of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

 

A fourth objective of Ahmadinejad is to regularly test the West’s reactions to his statements about the destruction of Israel and Holocaust distortion. The fact that the reactions remain verbal may well indicate to him that not much will happen, either, if Iran goes ahead with nuclear armament.

 

Ahmadinejad is likely to continue calling for genocide against Israel and manipulating the Holocaust. His emphasis may vary according to what he considers the needs of the situation.

 

Ahmadinejad and his followers are driven by an apocalyptic vision of Islam that considers hate propaganda, violence, destruction, murder, and even genocide permissible tools to achieve their aims. The West nowadays is unfamiliar with such large-scale governmental and ideological fanaticism. Its leaders and peoples will have to make much greater efforts to comprehend the nature and methods of this religious totalitarianism. Otherwise it will remain difficult to develop effective counteractions.

 

* * *

Notes

* Many thanks are due to the following JCPA interns who have collected background material on the Ahmadinejad presidency: Kevin Touati, Melissa Fishkin, Matthew Kandel, and Hildegunn Hansen. I am most grateful to participants in the staff meetings of the Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism project for their comments. Particular thanks are due to Yusef Hakimian.

1. Anne Barnard, “Conference in Iran on Holocaust Begins,” Boston Globe, 12 December 2006.

2. Associated Press, “Iran Opens Conference to Discuss Evidence of Holocaust,” USA Today, 12 December 2006.

3. “Iranian President at Teheran Conference: ‘Very Soon, This Stain of Disgrace [Israel] Will Be Purged from the Center of the Islamic World—and This Is Attainable,’” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch Series, No. 1013, 28 October 2005.

4. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Ahmadinejad Calls for Israel’s Elimination and Declares War on the West: A Case Study of Incitement to Genocide,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 536, 1 November 2005.

5. Justus Reid Weiner, Meir Rosenne, Elie Wiesel, Dore Gold, Irit Kohn, Eytan Bentsur, and Dan Naveh, Referral of Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the Charge of Incitement to Commit Genocide (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, 2006.)

6. Pierre Prier, “A La Mecque, le président iranien nie la Shoah,” Le Figaro, 9 December 2005.[French]

7. “Iran to Host Debate on Holocaust,” BBCNews, 15 January 2006.

8. “Ahmadinejad: Jüdischen Staat in Europa errichten,” Der Standard , 10 December 2005. [German]

9. “Iran: Holocaust Remarks Misunderstood,” CNN.com, 16 December 2005.

10. “Iranian Jewish Leader Protests Ahmadinejad Remarks,” Jerusalem Post, 12 February 2006.

11. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Mohammed-Cartoon Controversy, Israel, and the Jews: A Case Study,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 43, 2 April 2006.

12. Nazila Fathi, “Iran Daily to Sponsor Holocaust Cartoons,” New York Times, 7 February 2006.

13. Associated Press, “Iran: Holocaust ‘Exaggerated,’ Conference to Be Held in Fall,”Haaretz, 3 September 2006.

14. Arieh Stav, Peace, the Arabian Caricature: A Study in Antisemitic Imagery (Tel Aviv: Gefen Books, 1999).

15. Joël and Dan Kotek, Au nom de l’antisionisme: L’image des Juifs et d’Israël dans la caricature depuis la seconde Intifada (Brussels : Edition Complexe, 2003). [French]

16. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Joël Kotek, “Major Antisemitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 21, 1 June 2004.

17. For a full list of participants, see: www.irancartoon.com/110/index3.htm.

18. Joël and Dan Kotek, Au nom de l’antisionisme, 161.

19. Nasser Karimi, “Holocaust Cartoon Wins a Prize in Iran,” New York Sun, 3 November 2006.

20. Gerstenfeld, interview with Kotek.

21. www.intelligence.org.il/eng/eng_n/html/holocaust_denial_e.htm.

22. On Holocaust Denial in Australia and Toben’s role in it, see Danny Ben-Moshe, “Holocaust Denial in Australia,” Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism (Jerusalem: Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2005), 25.

23. “Ahmadinejad at Holocaust Conference: Israel Will ‘Soon Be Wiped Out,’” Haaretz, 13 December 2006.

24. “Harper, Dion Condemn Tehran Conference,” Canadian Jewish News, 11 January 2007.

25. For details about Faurisson’s negationist activities, see Henry Rousso, Le dossier Lyon III: Le rapport sur le racisme et le négationnisme à l’université Jean-Moulin (Paris: Fayard, 2004).[French]

26. Yoav Stern, “Arab Media Play Up Ultra-Orthodox, Anti-Zionist Jews at Iran Conference.”Haaretz, 13 December 2006.

27. Colin Freeman, “Anti-Semites Head for Iran to Query Holocaust,” Sunday Telegraph, 10 December 2006.

28. “Ahmadinejad at Holocaust Conference.”

29. “Iran Holocaust Denial Conference Announces Plan to Establish World Foundation for Holocaust Studies—To Be Eventually Based in Berlin and Headed by Iranian Presidential Advisor Mohammad Ali Ramin Who Has Said: ‘The Resolution of the Holocaust Issue Will End in the Destruction of Israel,’” MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series, No. 1397, 15 December 2006.

30. “Mohammad Ali Ramin, Advisor to Iranian President Ahmadinejad: ‘Hitler was Jewish,’” MEMRI, Special Dispatch—Iran /Antisemitism Documentation Project, No. 1408, 3 January 2007.

31. “Ahmadinejad at Holocaust Conference.”

32. Associated Press, “Chirac Orders Holocaust Denier Probed,” Jerusalem Post, 15 December 2006.

33. Reuters, “New UN Chief Denounces Iran for Denying Holocaust, Threatening Israel,”Haaretz, 15 December 2006.

34. Associated Press, “40 Institutes Boycott Iranian Think Tank That Organized Holocaust Conference, Paris Based Researcher Says,” International Herald Tribune, 16 December 2006.

35. Associated Press, “Emory Planning Holocaust Site in Arabic,” Jerusalem Post, 19 December 2006.

36. Alexandra Olson, “U.N. Adopts Holocaust Denial Resolution,” The Guardian, 27 January 2007.

37. Max Boot, “Hitler’s Mideast Helpers,” Los Angeles Times, 20 December 2006.

38. Tamar Sternthal, “In IHT, Holocaust Denial Is Legitimized as Alternate ‘Theory,’” CAMERA, 12 December 2006.

39. “Undeniably Offensive,” The Guardian, 13 December 2006.

40. The Guardian, 13 December 2006.

41. Goetz Nordbruch, “The Socio-Historical Background of Holocaust Denial in Arab Countries: Reactions to Roger Garaudy’s The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics,” Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism (Jerusalem: Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001), 17.

42. David Cesarani, “Deep in Denial,” The Guardian, 11 December 2006.

43. Robert Tait, “Tehran Faces Backlash over Conference to Question Holocaust,” The Guardian, 16 January 2006.

44. MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis Series, No. 95, 30 May 2002.

45. www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=fwLYKnN8LzH&b=253162&ct=3351527.

46. “Criticism of Tehran Holocaust Denial Conference in Arab and Iranian Media,” MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series, No. 1425, 16 January 2007.

47. Amiram Barkat, “Islamic Movement Sheikhs Slam Theories of Holocaust Denial,”Haaretz, 17 December 2006.

48. Amiram Barkat, Yoav Stern, and Gideon Alon, “Ultra-Orthodox, Holocaust Deniers Gather in Tehran,” Haaretz, 12 December 2006.

49. “Tehran Rejects Israeli-Arab Seeking to Prove Shoah,” ynetnews.com, 11 December 2006.

50. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Why They Deny the Holocaust,” Los Angeles Times, 16 December 2006.

51. Sheere Claire Frenkel, “MKs Unite against Iran Holocaust Conference,” Jerusalem Post, 11 December 2006.

52. Etgar Lefkovits, “Iran Slams Iran Holocaust Conference,” Jerusalem Post, 11 December 2006.

53. Shlomo Shamir and Associated Press, “Satmars: Jews at Iran Holocaust Conference ‘Reckless Outcasts,’” Haaretz, 16 December 2006.

54. Robert Tait, “Iranian Students Hide in Fear for Lives after Venting Fury at Ahmadinejad,”The Guardian, 18 December 2006.

55. Gethin Chamberlain, “Hands Up if You’ve Lost the Plot,” Sunday Telegraph, 21 January 2007.

56. Robert Tait, “Tehran Power Struggle Intensifies,” The Guardian, 24 January 2007.

57. “Former Iranian President Rafsanjani on Using a Nuclear Bomb against Israel,” MEMRI,Special Dispatch Series, No. 325, 3 January 2002.


About Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he founded and directed the Center's Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program. Dr. Gerstenfeld is an international business and environmental strategist. Dr. Gerstenfeld is the author of many books including Revaluing Italy; Environment and Confusion; Israel's New Future Interviews; The State as Business: Do It Yourself Political Forecasting; Judaism, Environmentalism and the Environment; and The Environment in the Jewish Tradition-A Sustainable World. His latest book, Europe's Crumbling Myths exposes the origins of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism.