An international Holocaust denial convention in Tehran, the highlight of the Iranian Holocaust denial campaign. The photograph shows Ahmadinejad (center) with the convention’s participants (December 12, 2006, Reuters, photo by Rahib Homvandi).
Iran’s Holocaust denial campaign: the cover of Holocaust (2008), a book which includes annotated cartoons and illustrations pertaining to Holocaust denial. The cover shows a stereotypical Jew drawing chalk outlines of bodies on the ground, suggesting that the Holocaust is a fabrication (Iran’s Irin TV, September 26, 2008).
1. Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy has turned into one of the controversial issues ahead of the presidential election, slated for June 12. The presidential hopefuls (Ahmadinejad's opponents), particularly the reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have strongly condemned that policy, claiming that it is detrimental to Iran's foreign policy and international status, and that Iran is playing into Israel's hands by following it. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad and his supporters argue in favor of the Holocaust denial policy, saying that questioning the validity of the Holocaust and its extent is the way to undermine the Zionist identity and the very legitimacy of the State of Israel (see Appendix A for details).
2. During Ahmadinejad's term as president, Iran has engaged in an active anti-Semitic policy, one of whose major components is Holocaust denial or its trivialization. The intensive defiant Holocaust denial campaign has become central to the Iranian regime's calculated and thought-out strategy, whose ultimate objective is the delegitimization of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel in the Arab and Muslim world and on the international scene in order to pave the ideological and moral way for its destruction. At the same time, that policy is designed to further establish Iran's influence among the Palestinians in particular and on the Arab street in general, helping to advance Iran's drive for regional hegemony and strengthen its status in the Arab and Muslim world (see Appendix B for details).
3. During the presidential election campaign, Ahmadinejad's opponents have strongly condemned Ahmadinejad's conduct regarding Holocaust denial. However, they made no real attempt to reject Ahmadinejad's claims on the validity of the Holocaust or to bring up the moral claim that the Holocaust did take place in its true extent or to demand a change in the regime's policy towards the State of Israel.
4. Out of all the presidential candidates, reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi expressed particularly strong views on Holocaust denial. However, he also attempted to play down the Holocaust ("It doesn't matter how many people were eliminated in the Holocaust, six thousand or six million, a Holocaust is a Holocaust...”). 1 The major claim brought up by Mehdi Karroubi and Ahmadinejad's other opponents is that the Holocaust denial policy isolates Iran on the international scene, thus serving Israel 's interests. 2 Therefore, the criticism of the Holocaust denial policy can be seen as an inseparable part of an all-out attack launched by Ahmadinejad's opponents on his provocative foreign policy, rather than an authentic criticism of the cynical, political use made of the Holocaust of the Jewish people to advance Iran 's political goals.
5. Stepping up to defend the Holocaust denial policy, President Ahmadinejad and his supporters have brought up the claim that Holocaust denial is an effective means of promoting Iran's foreign policy objectives , mainly weakening the State of Israel by undermining the ideological and moral foundation of its existence. Thus, viewing the Holocaust as a political instrument to be used by Iran, they claim that Holocaust denial is a beneficial, influential measure, since it causes much harm to Israel and to the Zionist movement on a sensitive issue which, as far as the Iranians are concerned, is an Achilles heel (ignoring the international outcry over Iran's Holocaust denial policy and the fact that it failed to gain much public attention in the Arab and Muslim world). 3
Debate over Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy during
Iran 's presidential election campaign
1. Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy has turned into one of the core issues of Iran 's current presidential election campaign. That policy has been strongly criticized mostly by Ahmadinejad's opponents in the presidential race. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have stepped up to defend the Holocaust denial policy, stressing that it is the most effective way to invalidate the legitimacy of the State of Israel, that it has achieved positive results, and has proved a success.
Statements condemning the Holocaust denial policy
2. Of particular note among the Holocaust denial policy opponents is Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate and President Ahmadinejad's main adversary. Following are some of his statements on the issue of Holocaust denial:
a. "The Israelis are the kind of people that the Iranian people cannot be friends with, and the Holocaust is none of our concern, too. Instead of dealing with the Holocaust, we should come up with a way to solve the problems of the Palestinians...” (Mousavi's speech in Khorasan Province , Eftab News website, April 24, 2009. The website is run by the supporters of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran 's Expediency Discernment Council, and Hassan Rowhani, former secretary of Iran 's National Security Council and a critic of Ahmadinejad).
b. Mir-Hossein Mousavi addressed the issue of the Holocaust in an interview granted to the German Der Spiegel. "We unequivocally condemn the Holocaust”, he said. "It is not Iran 's responsibility to tell how many people died in the Holocaust. It is not Iran 's responsibility to bear the burden of the Holocaust. We denounce the Holocaust which took place. But what we are asking is: Why should the Palestinians pay the price for the Holocaust, which took place on European soil? [...] But I am also not willing to recognize Israel [...] In the past twenty years, I have been of the opinion that a referendum should be held in Palestine , and that all Jews, Muslims, and Christians living there should take part in it. The decision whether they want one country for all the peoples living there or two countries for two peoples is their own internal business...” ( Sarmayeh , Iran 's leading economic newspaper, citing Der Spiegel, May 3, 2009).
c. In a speech in the city of Mashhad, Mousavi said: "The President's presence at the Durban 2 convention [held in Geneva] was outrageous, and Iran has to pay dearly for the senseless remarks he made at that convention [...] Saying supposedly heroic sentences cannot justify the heavy toll they exact on Iran [...] Such statements offend the dignity of Iran and Iranians worldwide [...] We must not allow such statements to continue haunting us [...]” (Rajanews, an ultra-conservative website associated with Ahmadinejad's supporters, May 6, 2009). In addition, during an Iranian TV debate (June 3), Mir-Hossein Mousavi pointed out again that the issue of the Holocaust caused damage to Iran on the international scene.
3. The strongest condemnations of the Holocaust denial policy—which were then criticized by Ahmadinejad's supporters—came from the cleric Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist presidential candidate. Some of his statements on the issue follow:
a. From a speech given in Esfahan Province : "Denying the Holocaust is like defending Hitler. Have we come down so low that we need to defend Hitler's dignity? [...] Not only did Ahmadinejad serve Israel's interests, he became its loyal, faithful servant and even managed to rally the entire world to its side [...]” (Etemad Melli, the official publication of Karroubi's party, May 16, 2009; the website of Amirkabir University, associated with students who support the reformist movement, May 15, 2009).
b. From the first speech he gave after being approved by the Guardian Council of the Constitution: "Iran has paid dearly for Ahmadinejad's senseless remarks [...] As a result of the things he said, the Security Council has so far passed four resolutions against Iran [...]” (Iranian TV, May 24, 2009).
c. From an election speech: "In a speech I gave at Tehran University two years ago, I said that the Holocaust was an actual historical fact. It cannot be denied. It doesn't matter if six million or six thousand people died in it [...] Statements denying the Holocaust are insane [...] I will stick to my position [...]” (Iranian website in the UK, April 20, 2009; Saham News, Karroubi's supporters' website, April 20, 2009).
d. From an interview to German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau: "The Holocaust is a fact. It is a crime that actually took place. It must not be questioned. Why should Iran deny the Holocaust? Why should Iran defend Adolf Hitler? What's important is that Palestinians be able to live on their land. We must find a solution that would allow Muslims and Jews to live together in that land [...]” (Deutsche Welle, German radio, the Persian website, May 16, 2009).
e. From an election speech: "The Holocaust is a proven fact... It doesn't matter how many people were eliminated, six million or six thousand. A Holocaust is a Holocaust...” (Voice of America website in Farsi, based on IRNA, April 21, 2009).
f. In response to a question from a reporter of the Etemad Melli party newspaper: "The Holocaust is not an Iranian issue. We should not concern ourselves with the Holocaust [...]” (YouTube, May 14, 2009). "Rest assured that my government will not concern itself with issues that have nothing to do with us, such as the Holocaust” (Asr-e Iran, a website associated with the pragmatic conservative faction and considered to be a supporter of presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, April 21, 2009).
4. Mohsen Rezai, another presidential candidate who represents the pragmatic faction in the conservative bloc and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, also lashed out against Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy on several occasions:
a. From the first press conference after being declared a presidential candidate: "Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban 2 convention was an unnecessary, harmful adventure [...] What is the point in Iran 's bringing up the issue of the Holocaust? How can we benefit from it? Talking about the Holocaust is an issue only members of the academia should concern themselves with [...] (reformist website Mardomak, May 4, 2009).
b. From an election speech: "The question of how many people died in the Holocaust is superfluous. The Quran says that murdering one soul is the same as destroying an entire society. So, it doesn't matter whether one million or one hundred million people died... Ahmadinejad's policy on most issues, particularly the issue of foreign policy, is driven by adventurism” (from the website of Radio Farda, an American radio station broadcasting in Farsi, May 3, 2009).
c. On a Q&A show aired on Iranian television (June 1), Mohsen Rezai was asked about the principles of his policy. In response to one of the questions, he noted that if he was appointed prime minister, he would put an end to the use of the issue of the Holocaust, which, as he said, did not pertain to Iran 's revolutionary political concept.
5. Following are other statements in opposition of Holocaust denial made by Iranian senior officials:
a. Mehdi Rahmanian, the editor-in-chief of Sharq (a newspaper that was banned by Ahmadinejad's government) and one of Mousavi's supporters, gave a speech to reform-seeking students: " Iran is now the only country which bears the burden of the shame of the Holocaust. No other country in the world suffered so much from dealing with the issue of the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad's government thought that by bringing up the Holocaust it would help the Palestinian issue, but it was wrong and it caused severe problems for Iran . After Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban 2 convention, the UN passed a resolution prohibiting all countries from talking about the Holocaust again [...] Ahmadinejad wanted to put himself on the world map and in order to achieve that goal, he brought up the issue of Holocaust denial, and Iran was badly hit as a result [...] Delegates from forty countries walked out on his speech at Durban 2. Yet he keeps claiming that they were a minority, when in fact they were the vast majority of the countries that matter [...]” (IRNA, Iran 's official news agency, May 22, 2009).
b. From a speech by Mohsen Eminzade, former Deputy Foreign Minister in Mohammad Khatami's government: "Ahmadinejad's provocative rhetoric on Holocaust denial have rallied most of the world to Israel 's side... with severe damage to Iran 's dignity in the Middle East and elsewhere. We have no country to call a true friend. Most Arab and Islamic countries have distanced themselves from us, and Morocco even went as far as to cut off all relations with us. Despite the mutual visits of politicians between Tehran and Baghdad , the relations between Iran and Iraq are badly strained, our relations with Central Asian countries are in jeopardy, our borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan are insecure, we have not taken advantage of [President Barack] Obama's entry into the White House, four resolutions against us were passed by the Security Council. Every Iranian citizen in the world is humiliated because of Iran 's humiliation, and the responsibility for that rests squarely on Ahmadinejad's shoulders, because of his actions and remarks. Major international companies are not willing to invest in Iran , the country's foreign and internal policy is in severe chaos, and despite all that Ahmadinejad keeps claiming that he has improved Iran 's standing in the world. Such claims come from a clouded mind...” (ILNA, a news agency belonging to an Iranian organization known as Worker's House, headed by Ali-Reza Mahjoub, May 21, 2009).
c. Abdallah Ramazan Zade, a former spokesman in Mohammad Khatami's government and one of Mousavi's supporters, said the following in an interview granted to the reformist newspaper Etemad: "Hitler murdered the Jews. The question that needs to be asked is: Are we going to defend Hitler? Does that issue have to do with the prestige of the Iranian government? Why do we need to question Hitler's elimination of the Jews seventy years ago? Why do we have to face the question of whether or not Hitler murdered them? What do we have to gain from our peculiar musings about that issue? Because of our insistence, the UN General Assembly, which has always been against Israel, defended Israel against Ahmadinejad's remarks, and the end result was just the opposite of what our president had in mind [...] Ahmadinejad's policy and statements are a disgrace to Iran and do nothing to add to our dignity [...]” (Kalemeh, the official website of Mousavi's supporters, May 25, 2009).
d. Mohsen Ermin, a former MP and member of the main committee of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin organization, condemned the Holocaust denial policy. In an election speech given at Mousavi's headquarters in Tehran , he noted that Ahmadinejad's policy on the Holocaust took a heavy toll on Iran . It drove large international companies out of Iran and cut off foreign investments, particularly in the spheres of oil and petroleum (Fars News Agency, June 1, 2009).
Defending the Holocaust denial policy
6. President Ahmadinejad defended the Holocaust denial policy and strongly criticized his opponents. In a speech given to a group of teachers in Tehran, he said that questioning the Holocaust was one of Iran's battle tactics aimed at the enemy's "weak spot” (TV Press in English, May 31, 2009). In an election speech given by Ahmadinejad, he lashed out against the "lowlifes” who claimed that his policy had an adverse effect on Iran 's standing: "[...] We have chosen the best diplomacy, brought up the issue of the Holocaust, and questioned that issue in a way that left the world amazed by the wisdom of the Iranians... For decades, the world has sanctified the issue of the Holocaust and no one dared to ask any question about it...” (Mehr News Agency, which belongs to the Islamic Information Organization in Khamenei's office, May 31, 2009).
7. Some of the president's supporters also stepped up to defend his Holocaust denial policy, particularly following the strong-worded remarks made by reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi:
a. Hamid Reza Taraqi, the Islamic Coalition Party 4 Vice Chairman for International Affairs, said that questioning the Holocaust caused unprecedented damage to the Zionists. In an interview granted to the conservative Iran News Agency, Taraqi said that the debate around the Holocaust was meant to undermine the political legitimacy of the Zionists. If that issue was unimportant to the Zionist regime, they would not be so sensitive about it and would not impose such heavy punishments on Holocaust deniers. Questioning the validity of the Holocaust is the way to deny Israel 's Zionist identity and legitimacy, and therefore Ahmadinejad's bringing up the issue was an effective, influential measure which weakened Israel 's position on the international scene. Taraqi added that as far as the struggle against the Zionists was concerned, Karroubi was expected to embrace the view of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, who emphasized that all Muslims must come together to fight the Zionist regime (official government newspaper Iran, May 16, 2009).
b. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the Majles Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security, responded to Karroubi's remarks by saying that Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy weakened Israel . He said that the various candidates had better show more sensitivity when it comes to national issues, because their views could be exploited in the West. He said that Iran had freedom of expression and that all people were entitled to voice their opinion, but also that the Holocaust was not an issue that could be accepted without scientific or historical backing ( Iran , May 16, 2009).
c. Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad's election adviser, said in an election speech that the president had managed to break the taboo of the Holocaust and "shock the symbol of the Zionists”. He added that it was an important step because Iran was thus able to "weaken the present-day existential foundation of the Zionist regime [...] Today's Iran is known throughout the world for its bravery and daring [...]” (Mehr News Agency, May 25, 2009).
d. Mohammad Ali Ramin, the Iranian president's adviser and a notorious Holocaust denier, was appointed the Chairman of the "*World Holocaust Research Foundation”, established by the international Holocaust denial convention held in Tehran on December 11-12, 2006. During the election campaign, he praised Ahmadinejad for blazing a completely different path, "and the new path was to open the Holocaust file [...]” He further added that "Ahmadinejad focused the attention of the world public opinion on the Holocaust instead of Iran's nuclear program [...]” (Mehr News Agency, May 27, 2009).
A short summary of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy and its purposes
1. During Ahmadinejad's presidential term, Iran has embraced an active anti-Semitic policy, two of whose most visible components are the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and Holocaust denial or its trivialization. The ongoing Holocaust denial campaign, defying and demonstratively ignoring the sensibilities of the world public, is an expression of a deeply rooted hatred of Jews in Iranian society and politics, of the Iranian president's personality and belief system, and of the Iranian regime's radical Islamic ideology.
2. Driven by ideological and utilitarian reasons, Iran believes that by presenting a defiant, Islamic revolutionary model in its struggle against Israel, it will be able to rekindle and reconnect with the basic desires of Arab and Muslim peoples (as opposed to rulers): hatred of Zionism and Jews, of the very establishment of the State of Israel, and of the West, which supported it following the Holocaust. Iran believes that those are not foreign concepts for Arabs, but that they were eroded and suppressed in Arab countries after the wars against Israel , mainly because of their rulers' "corrupt and treacherous” conduct and their willingness to recognize Israel , form relations with it, and even sign peace treaties with it.
3. The anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic policy held by Iranian spokesmen is above the current political debate for purposes of the election. Ideologically, through Holocaust denial the Iranians strive to undermine the belief in the historical, formative event which motivated the establishment of the State of Israel, thus rendering obsolete the reason which was, as far as Iran is concerned, the initial rationalization for its establishment. On the other hand, the Iranians take decisive action against Israel in the practical sphere, both directly (military and nuclear buildup) and indirectly, by supporting terrorist organizations which operate against Israel . Their ultimate goal is to erase the State of Israel from the Middle East , stressing that it is both possible and achievable.
4. Iran believes that the anti-Israeli rhetoric and the Holocaust denial campaign are music to Arab and Muslim ears. They are designed to let Iran fill the leadership void left in the Arab world after the elimination of Saddam Hussein, taking advantage of the "victories” of Hezbollah and Hamas, attained with active Iranian support. Thus, Iran positions itself as the actual leader of those who actively oppose Israel and the American hegemony in the Middle East . Israel and the Holocaust, described by Ahmadinejad as Israel 's "weak point”, produce a window of opportunity for Iran to promote the "other” revolutionary agenda in the Arab and Muslim world, particularly vis-à-vis non-state participants, thus circumventing Arab rulers.
5. Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy is therefore a central component in a deliberate, carefully planned strategy using which the Iranian regime strives to attain three main goals :
a. Delegitimizing the Zionist movement and the State of Israel to lay the ideological and moral foundation for its gradual elimination in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world, and even more so in the West and in the entire international community. According to Ahmadinejad, denying or at least playing down the Holocaust will gradually erode the European and American sense of guilt which, as Iran believes, resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel, thus laying the foundation for its destruction. In his view, the Jewish problem is basically a European problem that should be solved by the Europeans by letting Jews live in Europe as protégés while a Palestinian state will be established on the ruins of the State of Israel.
b. Deepening Iran 's influence among the Palestinians and the Arab street, portraying it as the true standard bearer of struggle for Palestinian rights, in contrast to the "feeble Arab rulers”. Ahmadinejad's regime describes the Palestinians as the true victims of the Holocaust and of the realization of the protocols of the elders of Zion by Israel and the Zionist movement. Thus, the Iranians portray themselves as protectors of the Palestinian cause and pioneers of the ideology calling for the elimination of the State of Israel. The anti-Israeli campaign, mixed with Holocaust denial, is also designed to strengthen and deepen Iran 's influence on the Palestinian scene. That policy is accompanied by supporting Palestinian terrorism and forming stronger connections between Ahmadinejad's regime and the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip.
c. Promoting Iran 's drive for regional hegemony and strengthening its position in the Arab and Muslim world. In contrast to the Iranian policy during Rafsanjani's and Khatami's presidential terms, Ahmadinejad's regime has embraced an active, offensive strategy to expand and deepen Iran 's influence in the Middle East and even beyond. The anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic policy, which puts Holocaust denial together with the destruction of the State of Israel, is perceived by the regime as an effective propaganda weapon for securing the support of the masses in the Arab and Muslim world and to hit pro-Western regimes, mainly Egypt and Jordan , which signed peace treaties with Israel . To do that, the Iranian regime takes advantage of the hatred against Israel , the Jewish people, and Western countries which prevails in the Arab and Muslim world. That concept is nothing new, since anti-Israeli views and anti-Semitism have always been effective instruments for securing popular support from Arab regimes in the Middle East, even though those regimes, unlike today's Iran , did not turn anti-Semitism into a major political instrument to be used consciously and systematically.
6. A major expression of Ahmadinejad's policy was an international Holocaust denial convention organized by the Iranian regime in Tehran on December 11-12, 2006. The convention was attended by 67 people from thirty countries, including some notorious racists and holocaust deniers. During the convention, racists and holocaust deniers discussed such topics as: was there really a Holocaust? What was its extent? How many Jews were killed in it? Were there actually gas chambers? How did anti-Semitism and the Holocaust affect Zionism? As already mentioned, the convention was condemned by the international community and did not gain much public attention in the Arab world. 5
1 The logic of playing down the Holocaust is the basis for Hamas's claim (frequently brought up in Arab and Muslim propaganda) that Israel 's actions in the Gaza Strip are tantamount to a "holocaust”.
2 The delegates' walkout on Ahmadinejad's speech in Geneva (during the Durban 2 convention) was used by his Iranian opponents to berate him.
3 The Holocaust denial policy has not gained much public attention in the Arab world, which understands the true Iranian motives behind it. For example, the Holocaust denial convention in Tehran (December 11-12, 2006) did not trigger any significant expressions of support in the Arab world, although Holocaust denial is deeply rooted amongst Arabs.
4 A party associated with the traditional conservative bloc.
5 For more information on the convention and on Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial policy, see our April 17, 2008 study: "Contemporary Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism, its Significance and Implications ”.