September 18, 2008 | 3:33 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
TEHRAN — The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took the unusual step on Thursday of publicly defending a high official accused by legislators and senior clerics of saying that Iran was a friend of the Israeli people.
Nonetheless, Mr. Ahmadinejad repeated his opposition to Israel, saying that while “some say the idea of a Greater Israel has expired, I say the idea of a lesser Israel has expired, too.” He also called the Holocaust a “fake” and accused Israel of perpetrating a holocaust on the Palestinian people, The Associated Press said.
In mid July, the vice president for tourism, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, was quoted as saying Iran was “a friend of the Israeli people.” He repeated the comment in August saying there was “no hostility toward the Israeli people.”
The rejection of Israel is a founding principle of Iran’s Islamic revolution so that any suggestion of recognition of Israel is heretical, and Mr. Mashai’s remarks drew protests from some 200 legislators and from some senior clerics. But, despite their calls for his ouster, Mr. Mashai was not dismissed or disciplined.
On Thursday, Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose son is married to a daughter of Mr. Mashai, came to his defense, saying that Mr. Mashai “has served the people and the government for 30 years.”
“He has never used the term ‘Israeli people’ and never will.” he said.
Instead, Mr. Ahmadinejad insisted that “what Mr. Mashai said is the message of the government,” representing that as Iran wanting to help people who had been “tricked” by the authorities into living in Israel.
“Our nation has no problem with other nations, but as far the Zionist regime is concerned, we do not believe in an Israeli government or an Israeli nation,” he said.
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