'Zero Degree Turn' Part I (Farsi with English subtitles 10:07)
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A popular Persian-language drama on Iranian state-run television dealing with the Holocaust contains anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes, Los Angeles Iranian Jewish activists have revealed.
News publications, including The Wall Street Journal, have hailed the new show, "Zero Degree Turn," as sympathetic to the plight of Jews during the Shoah, but Jewish experts fluent in Persian have analyzed the program more closely and have come to a different conclusion.
"This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are 'good with the Jews,'" said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. "But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books."
The show focuses on an Iranian Palestinian Muslim man who, over the course of 22 episodes, helps his French Jewish lover and her family escape Nazi-occupied France by providing them with forged passports. Khalili and other L.A.-area Iranian Jews say the program is laced with blatant historical inaccuracies and messages of hate for Jews and Zionists.
"One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes," Khalili said. The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews.
Talab, Khalili said, is loosely based on Abdol Hossein Sardari, Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time.
Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor of Eastern studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., recently completed a book on Sardari's life. He said "Zero Degree Turn" egregiously misrepresents Sardari, who never accepted money for giving Jews in France Iranian passports.
"Sardari was duty-bound to look after the interests of Iranians. Whether they were Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim was not very important to him," said Mokhtari, who is Muslim and has been researching Sardari since 2002. "As he was quoted having told his inquiring nephew, 'It was his duty to his country and to God.'"
In April 2004, Los Angeles Jewish organizations, including the Wiesenthal Center and Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, posthumously honored Sardari for saving several hundred Iranian Jews and European Jews who were living in Paris during World War II. The late Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian Jewish survivor aided by Sardari, attended the 2004 ceremony at Nessah and told of how Sardari had helped him and the other Jews escape the Nazis without requesting any money.
Western media outlets first learned of "Zero Degree Turn" several months ago, when English-subtitled episodes appeared on YouTube. In those shows, the existence of the Holocaust was not questioned. For this reason, the series has generated substantial attention, in part as a contrast to the repeated Holocaust-denial statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Frank Nikbkaht, an Iranian Jew and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, called "Zero Degree Turn," with its elaborate sets, expensive foreign location shoots and actresses appearing without the state-mandated Islamic dress code, part of a larger public relations campaign by the Iranian government.
"Powerful forces within Iran have decided to erase or whitewash Ahmadinejad's Holocaust statements out of fear of losing even more in the propaganda war aimed at European and American audiences," Nikbkaht said. "They're probably thinking that if Ahmadinejad won't correct himself, or if he cannot retreat, then 'we will do it for him.'"
At the same time, other Iran experts dispute allegations that "Zero Degree Turn" is a publicity stunt, because the program is both fictional and was produced a few years before Ahmadinejad began making his Holocaust-denial statements.
"Criticizing a fictional story for inaccuracy may not be entirely justified, unless the inaccuracies are flagrant," Mokhtari said. "I would refrain from passing judgment on the program until I see more of it."
Yet according to online English translations of the series' second episode, prepared by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Zionist Jews in the program go so far as to kill an Iranian rabbi in Paris and collaborated with the Gestapo in order to compel Jews to immigrate to Palestine.
One character in the show, an anti-Zionist rabbi named Menuhin, is asked whether fanatic Jews killed an Iranian rabbi. His response is, "It is more likely the work of the Jewish Agency. They don't mind presenting life here as scary and unsafe in order to convince as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine."
Khalili also said that other episodes of "Zero Degree Turn" make repeated references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are historically out of place, because the issue was not prevalent in the 1940s. Likewise the Jewish characters in the series are shown in a poor light, because they speak an improper form of the Persian language, as compared to the Muslim characters, Khalili said.
"We have a responsibility as Iranian Jews living outside of Iran to reveal to the rest of the world how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic the Iranian government is through this program and others like it," Khalili said.
While the show's writer-director Hassan Fatthi, who is based in Iran, did not return calls from The Jewish Journal for comment, he told The Wall Street Journal last month that his intention is to make a political statement about the Middle East, more than to create an entertainment piece based on some historical facts.
"Iranians have always differentiated between ordinary Jews and a minority of Zionists," Fatthi said in the interview. "The murder of innocent Jews during World War II is just as despicable, sad and shocking as the killing of innocent Palestinian women and children by racist Zionist soldiers."
According to reports from within Iran, "Zero Degree Turn" has become one of the country's most popular and watched television series since it began airing earlier this year.
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