Since assuming power more than one year ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and questioned the existence of the Holocaust, rhetoric that has evoked strong condemnation from the international community. His statements, coupled with Iran’s ongoing enrichment of uranium for potential use in nuclear weapons, are cause for concern in the West.
Since Ahmadinejad’s recent Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, local and national experts familiar with his regime have begun shedding light on the roots of the Iranian president’s anti-Semitism in order to better understand his motivations. But some local Iranian Jewish leaders refuse to publicly comment on Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, citing concerns that their statements might jeopardize the safety of Jews living in Iran. Yet despite the Iranian president’s Holocaust denial and anti-Israel views, his regime has not moved against the estimated 10,000 to 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran.
Iranian experts say that anti-Semitism among Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic leaders has deep roots and is not merely a public relations ploy.
“Holocaust revisionism is really what the Islamic Republic’s leaders believe, and not just what Ahmadinejad believes,” said Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist and researcher familiar with Iranian minorities. “It is also part of their psychological warfare arsenal in their serious struggle to eliminate Israel, and their long-term program of global jihad as embodied in the current Iranian constitution.”
Nikbakht, also a former public affairs director for the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, 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-Husseini—a Nazi collaborator—went 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; he also mentored the regime’s late founder, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Ahmadinejad’s own education was influenced by his mentor, the anti-Semitic Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, and by the late Ahmad Fardid, a self-appointed professor of philosophy at Tehran University. First in the 1940s and later after the 1979 revolution, Fardid taught university courses on Nazi ideology, racial purity and Holocaust revisionism to thousands of students in Iran, Nikbakht said.
When Dr. Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University, was teaching law at Tehran University, Fardid was teaching the theories of Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger at the same institution, said Milani.
“Fardid was a student of Heidegger and believed in his theory that Free Masons and Jewish organizations were trying to dominate the world and other kinds of nonsense you find in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” he said.
Milani said he believes Ahmadinejad is using anti-Semitic propaganda to draw the Iranian public’s attention away from his own policy failures.
“The most important reason for Ahmadinejad’s comments, I think, has been that he has been an absolute utter failure in his economic policies, in his international proposals, and he has isolated Iran more than ever,” Milani said. “Like most politicians, he likes to change the subject and this has again unfortunately done that for him.”
Ahmadinejad uses Holocaust denial as a means to delegitimize Israel’s existence, said Yigal Carmon, president of the Washington, D.C., Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates anti-Semitic and anti-American media reports from various Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran.
“Holocaust denial is important to Ahmadinejad because the Holocaust lends moral justification to the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel,” Carmon said at a recent Holocaust denial symposium at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. “Ahmadinejad’s primary obsession is not with the Holocaust, but with Israel’s very existence. If the Holocaust can get in the way of achieving this goal, it must be denied.”
Carmon also said that countless programs broadcast by the Iranian state-controlled television regularly demonize Jews by showing classic blood libels, reducing Jews to subhuman levels and accusing Jews of persecuting the Prophet Mohamed by voodoo rituals.
According to a report published in the March 1999 issue of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Chronicle, during the last 10 years, the Iranian regime has welcomed many European Holocaust revisionists to Iran.
The Iranian government has also translated and published anti-Semitic literature from Holocaust revisionists and American white supremacist groups, including the National Alliance.
Many observers of Iranian politics say that Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic statements have led to a backlash in certain sectors of Iranian society.
“In Iran, many prominent figures have condemned Ahmadinejad not in the sense that they believe in the historical truth of the Holocaust, but in the sense that Ahmadinejad, in the capacity of the president, has taken positions previously assigned to nongovernmental authorities and has thus caused isolation of Iran all over the world,” Nikbakht said.
Nikbakht said Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Shoah have also had a surprising effect on average Iranians living in Iran.
“This is the first time there has been a visible interest by millions of curious young Iranian Muslims in the issue of the Holocaust in a positive and sympathetic way—a result that is exactly the opposite of Ahmadinejad’s intent,” he said. “Countless Iranian groups and intellectuals are learning the truth about the Holocaust from articles written on the Web in Persian and through media broadcasts.”
This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles: