Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- Iran has been celebrating International Quds (Jerusalem) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan since Ayatollah Khomeini began the observance in 1979, to express Muslim yearning for the “liberation of Jerusalem” and the “restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.”
- Khomeini’s doctrine – “The destruction of Zionism and the ‘Zionist entity’ (Israel) is the basic condition for solving the contemporary problems of Islam” and liberating Palestine – continues to resonate and to guide even the second and third generations of the Islamic revolution, a sort of eternal precept that brooks no deviation, questioning, or disagreement and that one must strive constantly and actively to fulfill.
- According to this doctrine, the ongoing struggle against Israel and the United States is not a separate phenomenon but part of the centuries-old battle against Western arrogance, domineering, and imperialism, which implanted the “Zionist entity” in the heart of the Muslim domain.
- Each year the repeated call for the destruction of Israel offers Iran an opportunity to project an ongoing activist approach to the Palestinian problem. Tehran contrasts this stance with the current impotence and incompetence of the Sunni Arab leaders who, in its view, are gradually normalizing their relations with Israel and thereby betraying the Palestinians and the Muslim Ummah.
- Iran is arming Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza and helping them with rockets and missiles to balance forces in the armed struggle with Israel.
- The Iranian regime is not likely to change its ideological conception of Israel as a foreign implantation and it will continue to market that concept in the region and in the international arena.
- The meaning of the “Iranian peace plan” – or as the Supreme leader wrote in a propaganda poster ahead of Quds Day: “Palestine will be free. The final solution: Resistance until referendum” – is Israel’s eradication as a Jewish state.
Iran Celebrates International Quds (Jerusalem) Day
On Friday, May 22, Iran and the Muslim world celebrated International Jerusalem Day or Quds Day, which falls on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. In line with a ruling by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian government, this day has been observed each year since 1979. During it, Muslims express their yearning for the “liberation of Jerusalem” and the “restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians in Palestine.” Even today, Khomeini’s doctrine, in general, and Jerusalem Day, in particular, continue to dictate, define, sustain, and shape the goals of the Islamic Revolution, not least the call that is reiterated each year for the destruction of the “Zionist entity” – that is, Israel. This year, Israel’s Jerusalem Day, marked each year (on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar) to commemorate the city’s unification, fell on the same day as the Iranian International Quds Day.
Since its establishment, International Jerusalem Day has become a major highlight in the calendar of the Islamic regime. It is prepared for long in advance, both in Iran and among Muslim (particularly Shiite) populations outside of it. Among its main features are mass processions, usually after recruitment and organized transportation by the regime and its arms, in which placards proclaim “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, of which Iran is one of the epicenters, the Iranian regime made do with virtual activity. Its centerpiece was an online speech by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who asserted, among other things, that “the Zionist virus will not last very much longer and will be eradicated.”1 Iran also waged a wide-scale propaganda campaign on social networks and in its propaganda organs that featured calls for the annihilation of the Zionist entity (“the regime that occupies Jerusalem”). In that context, it also presented the Iranian peace plan along with denunciations of the Trump Peace Plan – the “deal of the century.”
In the run-up to International Jerusalem Day, Khamenei’s office sent out a poster (in English, Farsi, and Arabic) on social networks with the provocative, offensive, impudent, and deliberately intended title, which is unambiguous in the context of the Holocaust of the Jewish people: “Palestine will be free. The final solution: Resistance until referendum.” Amid the wide media impact, Khamenei “clarified” the poster by saying: “Eliminating Israel does not mean eliminating Jewish people….It means abolishing the imposed regime & Muslim, Christian & Jewish Palestinians choose their own govt & expel thugs like Netanyahu.”2 The Iranian leader’s plan is not new; he invokes it from time to time under various circumstances. In November 2019 he posted a similar plan on his website in English with the title: “How will the ‘abolition of Israel’ be accomplished?” and offered the main points of “the plan.”3
For his part, Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted (broadly hinting at Germany, which recently added Hizbullah to its list of terror organizations): “Disgusting that those whose civilization found a ‘Final Solution’ in gas chambers attack those who seek a real solution at the ballot box, through a REFERENDUM.”4
The poster was aimed at uniting the various elements of the “resistance camp.” It included indicators of the struggle and of Palestinian sacrifice, alongside symbols of the conflict with a focus on Jerusalem. These were linked with Iran’s decisive role, as Khamenei also made sure to emphasize in his speech, in strengthening the Palestinian camp and providing it with “tie-breaking weapons” (missiles and rockets) that are intended to balance the force equations between the Palestinians and Israel. Khamenei thereby defied the moderate Arab (Sunni) camp (particularly the Gulf States), including PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself who, in Khamenei’s view, has abandoned and even betrayed Palestine – in contrast to Iran, which is portrayed as a key regional power that spearheads the anti-Israel resistance camp. For their part, the leaders of the resistance camp rose to the occasion with online speeches, including Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas), Ziyad al-Nakhalah (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), Hassan Nasrallah (Hizbullah), Kais al-Khazali (leader of the pro-Iranian Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq), and Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi (leader of the Houthis in Yemen).
The poster is brimming with details, and its setting is the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque, possibly during the holding of a referendum. The figure of Qasem Soleimani, who was commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and was assassinated by the United States, and whom the Iranian regime is turning into a historical-religious-religious myth transcending time and location, appears in many places in the poster (even more than Khomeini and Khamenei do). To emphasize that the struggle against Israel goes beyond borders and countries, the flags of Palestine, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, and the IRGC all appear in the poster, as well as some of the flags of the pro-Islamic Shiite militias in Iraq and a picture of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was assassinated along with Soleimani (in the background, the Israeli flag is going up in flames).
Also visible in the poster are “martyred” Palestinian leaders (shahids) such as Ahmed Yassin (the Hamas leader who was assassinated in Gaza), Fathi Shkaki (the Islamic Jihad director-general who was assassinated in Malta), Imad Mughniyeh (a senior Hizbullah figure and associate of Khamenei, assassinated in Syria), and Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim (a senior Shiite figure in Iraq and one of the staunch opponents of Saddam Hussein, assassinated in Najaf). On one side of the poster, there also appear two women making a threatening T-shaped gesture with their hands – the gesture adopted by Nasrallah after Soleimani’s killing, which is meant to hint to the United States: You send your soldiers to the region standing up, and they will come back lying in coffins.
Nor did the Iranians forgo the Jewish context in the poster, which includes a number of figures representing ultra-Orthodox Jewish elements who oppose Zionism and Israel. Concomitantly, Khamenei stated in his speech regarding the “final solution”: “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians….A referendum should be held in which all the religions (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) will participate….This is our old proposal and it is still valid – it is the only solution to the challenge that the question of Palestine has faced and will face….That which should definitely go is the Zionist regime, since Zionism is a bizarre innovation which has been planted in Judaism and is totally alien to it.”
In this regard, the Iranian regime coerced Rabbi Yehuda Gerami, chief rabbi of the Iranian Jewish community, to lash out (in Hebrew) at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israelis as Iran marked Quds Day: “You don’t represent Judaism. We Iranian Jews want to send this message to the Zionists, and first and foremost to Netanyahu….Know that you Zionists do not represent Judaism and do not represent the Jewish people….You only represent the idea of a political movement whose ideas and values oppose the ideas and values of our holy Torah and the Jewish religion….We strongly condemn your aggressive actions and emphasize to the whole world: There is a big difference between Judaism and Zionism.”6
A Worldwide Revolutionary Vision
In tandem, not coincidentally, with the Iranian Jerusalem Day, five tankers were making their way to Venezuela carrying Iranian fuel for the Maduro regime in blatant violation of the U.S. sanctions on both countries. One tanker has already arrived and the others are in transit. With this tanker convoy, Iran is not only demonstrating readiness to clash with the United States if need be, but also that the resistance camp ranges far beyond the boundaries of the Middle East and that the struggle with the “Great Satan” is global. In social networks, Iran and Venezuela were portrayed as components of the anti-imperialist front, which, as far as Iran is concerned, is the international extension of the regional resistance front. Here, too, Qasem Soleimani is included in the campaign alongside the symbols of the ongoing anti-imperialist struggle in South America – Hugo Chavez, Simón Bolivar (El Libertador, the Venezuelan who freed South American countries from the yoke of Spanish rule), Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
The Spirit of the Times
Thus, Khomeini’s doctrine – “The destruction of Zionism is almost a necessary condition for solving the contemporary problems of Islam” – continues to resonate and to guide even the second and third generations of the revolution, a sort of eternal precept that brooks no deviation, questioning, or disagreement and that one must strive constantly and actively to fulfill. According to this doctrine, the ongoing struggle against Israel and the United States is not a separate phenomenon but part of the centuries-old battle against Western arrogance and imperialism, which implanted the Zionist entity in the heart of the Muslim domain and the world of Islam. Iran, as noted, has been broadening this struggle as part of its fight against the U.S. sanctions regime, even to the borders of the United States itself. It is also extending the regional resistance front to include the struggle against “U.S. imperialism in South America,” now specifically involving Venezuela, which is also contending with a sanctions regime. Hence, for Iran, the arrival of the fuel tankers to Venezuela’s shores, breaching the wall of U.S. sanctions, is a dramatic economic and moral achievement at a time when Iran is undergoing a severe economic, political, and medical crisis. Iran’s HispanTV strongly propagated this message.7
Thus, Iran seeks to incorporate both the anti-Israel resistance camp and the anti-imperialist camp into its border-transcending revolutionary vision. During the tankers’ voyage, the hashtag #IranYVenezuelaUnionAntiimperialista8 (“Iran and Venezuela united in the anti-imperialist struggle”) has gone viral on social networks, and the Qasem Soleimani symbol has made the long journey to the shores of Venezuela,9 thereby melding with the mythological symbols of the struggle against imperialism and its handiwork – “the Zionist entity.”
Amid Soleimani’s glorification after he was killed, as he became an integral part of the Shiite mythology, Khamenei likened him to Malik al-Ashtar, one of the most loyal companions of Imam Ali (father of Imam Hassan). Al-Ashtar, who fought in the foundational battles of early Islam (the Battle of the Camel, the Battle of Siffin, the Battle of Yarmouk, and others), is regarded as a skilled and fearless warrior. Indeed, the photo of Soleimani’s severed hand with its ring, which circulated on social networks and became one of the symbols of the assassination, is of great import in the Shiite believers’ iconography and corresponds with the myths of the battles (particularly Karbala) and the self-sacrifice of the historical Shiites. Iran is thus trying to link Soleimani as a symbol with the regional and international struggles against imperialism and the U.S. sanctions, and with the ongoing struggle of the Palestinians, Hizbullah, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen against regional enemies who are supported by the United States.
In the harsh anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric of Khamenei, the top regime officials, and the IRGC there is nothing new. They are indeed echoing the original slogans of the Islamic revolution, attuning them to the spirit of the time and place, and linking them with the new geostrategic reality that is emerging in the region and the world, and with the essential, overarching attitude that guides Iran: hostility and suspicion toward the West (particularly the United States) and Israel (which, as noted, it regards as a Western implant in the region).
The pro-active interpretation that Khomeini gave to Shiite Islam, and the revolution in Shia that he brought about, are regularly revalidated. For the current leaders of Iran, even amid the difficulties they are now undergoing, these factors link the successes in the national-Iranian dimension (bearing up under the sanctions, the continuing nuclear program, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the revival of the Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon, the Palestinian and Hizbullah “victories” against Israel) and in the religious dimension (the hand of the Mahdi through Divine intervention). This, in turn, bolsters belief and righteousness in the justness of the path, and in the ongoing rationale for standing firm. Just as Khomeini’s “prophecies” about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam are seen as having been realized, these leaders likewise believe in his prophecy about the demise of Israel, with Iran as the agent bringing it about.
An Activist Approach
Amid the complex weave of the efforts to export the revolution and promote the Islamic regime’s revolutionary aspirations, each year the repeated call for the destruction of Israel (“the Zionist regime,” “the Zionist entity,” “the regime that occupies al-Quds”) offers Iran an opportunity to showcase an ongoing activist approach to the Palestinian problem and a far-reaching domain of activity wherein the vision of the instigator of the revolution, Khomeini, can be realized. Tehran contrasts this stance with the impotence of the Sunni Arab leaders, who, in its view, are normalizing their relations with Israel and thereby betraying the Palestinians. Iran, as Khamenei underlined in his speech, is arming Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and helping them achieve a balance in the armed struggle with Israel. (Khamenei has also called to arm the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.)
In the past, Iran tried to wrap its radical ideological messages, whose real meaning is the destruction of Israel, in “cellophane.” Today the messages are more blatant and unabashed in the vein of the “final solution.” The Iranian regime is not likely to change its ideological conception of Israel as a foreign implantation and “cancerous tumor” (the phrase reappeared this year as well in Khamenei’s Jerusalem Day speech), and it will continue to market that concept in the region and in the international arena. The meaning of the “Iranian peace plan” – or, as packaged this year, a referendum as the “final solution” to the problem of Palestine – is Israel’s eradication as a Jewish state.
The calls for Israel’s destruction and of “Death to America” will keep reverberating around the world next year as well, and Iran will keep pursuing its meandering strategy toward the production of nuclear weapons. On Jerusalem Day in 2005, Ahmadinejad called on the Palestinians to “wisely stand firm for a short time, and if we go through it successfully, the process of destroying the Zionist regime will be simple and brief.” In September 2015, Khamenei asserted that Israel would not exist for another 25 years. 
Next year in Jerusalem Day?
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