For the Iranian Jews of Los Angeles, remembering the Shoah has taken on a new, sorrowful resonance in the wake of recent statements denying the Holocaust by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the same time, this year's observance will be buoyed by the presence of Iranian Muslim participants who will gather with them on April 23 at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of those who perished.
"This program is unique since it connects two large communities, Jews and Iranian [Muslims]," said George Haroonian, president of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations (CIAJO), who helped create the event. "We hope there will be a large turnout, and I am proud that we Iranian Jews are the bridge for this connection."
Local non-Jewish Persian language satellite radio and television outlets will cover the event. It will later be broadcast into Iran. Keynote speakers include Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"History has shown that we as Jews are not good experts at judging the character of dictators like Hitler, so it would be foolish to dismiss the comments of the Iranian president about his desire to annihilate the State of Israel," Hier said.
Milani said that Ahmadinejad is "trying to create an atmosphere of crisis. The primary purpose is to divert attention from a number of things; one of them is [the Iranian government's] blatant incompetence." Ahmadinejad, he added, "is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator in politics, because he thinks that if he engages in anti-Semitism he will have some support in the Arab streets."
He said that the majority of non-Jewish Iranians do not share the regime's extremist beliefs.
"The Jews have been living in Iran longer than Muslims have been there," Milani said. "The people ... are far more enlightened than their leadership."
Other experts linked Ahmadinejad's comments to deep-rooted anti-Semitic and even pro-Nazi sympathies.
"This issue of Holocaust revisionism is not just a diversion or demagoguery," said Frank Nikbakht, public affairs director for the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations. "It is really what the Iranian government officials believe and not just what Ahmadinejad believes. It is part and parcel of their long-term program of global jihad as embodied in the current Iranian constitution."
Nikbakht noted several milestones of pro-Nazi sympathies in Iran that carry over to the nation's current politics. In the early 1940s, the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Hussieni, a Nazi collaborator, came to Iran, where he influenced Ayatollah Kashani and other Iranian clerics. Kashani is well known in Iran for promulgating Al Hussieni's anti-Semitic beliefs, and he also mentored the regime's late founder, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Ahmadinejad's own education was influenced by the late Ahmad Fardid, who taught university courses on Nazi ideology, racial purity, and Holocaust revisionism to thousands of students, first in the 1940s and later after the 1979 revolution, said Nikbakht.
Over the last 10 years, the Iranian regime has welcomed international neo-Nazi groups and European Holocaust revisionists to visit Iran, while translating and publishing into Persian the anti-Semitic literature of American white supremacist groups, including the National Alliance.
Despite Ahmadinejad's calls to destroy Israel and his comments about the Shoah, the regime has not moved against Iran's remaining Jews, whose numbers range from 10,000 to 25,000, according to various estimates.
Still, the climate of hostility had made the community fearful, Nikbakht said.
Also in attendance at the Nessah Center event will be Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch and 88-year-old Menashe Ezrapour, the only Iranian Jewish Holocaust survivor known to have been interned in Nazi concentration and work camps during World War II.
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