Holocaust deniers’ conference in Tehran, December 2006
Holocaust denial, Iran-style (source: www.holocartoons.com)
The Holocaust denial policy has become one of the bones of contention in the Iranian presidential elections
President Ahmadinejad’s policy of Holocaust denial has become one of the bones of contention in the Iranian presidential elections, slated for June 14. In recent days it has been criticized by the president’s political rivals, who said that it causes damage to Iran’s foreign policy and plays into Israel’s hands. On the other hand, radical right-wing elements in the conservative camp have expressed support for the Holocaust denial policy, arguing that it is in line with the legacy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, and with the statements made by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.
The president’s political rivals and the Holocaust denial policy
The debate surrounding the policy of Holocaust denial resumed following an interview given to the press by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, on April 23. Qalibaf, considered one of the president’s strongest political rivals, is one of the most notable potential election candidates in the conservative camp. In the interview given to the Tasnim News agency, Qalibaf said that denying the Holocaust has not served Iran’s interests, and that it has only given its Zionist enemies an excuse to mobilize broad-based international agreement against the Iranian policy, including the nuclear policy. He stressed that while supporting the Palestinians is one of the principles of Iran’s foreign policy, denying the Holocaust is not. The Iranians have never been opposed to Jews, only to Zionists, Qalibaf said. Iran has supported the aspirations of the Palestinian people for 30 years, but thanks to the wisdom of Khomeini and Khamenei, it has never been accused of anti-Semitism. The president’s bringing up the Holocaust issue has contributed nothing to the revolution or to the Palestinians (www.tasnimnews.com/Home/Single/45881).
The criticism was echoed by other potential candidates for president, including former Majles Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, former Revolutionary Guards Chief and Expediency Discernment Council Secretary Mohsen Reza’i, Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi Fard, and Mohammad Shariatmadari, the former minister of commerce in Mohammad Khatami’s government.
Haddad Adel, who has partnered with Qalibaf and the Supreme Leader’s International Advisor Ali-Akbar Velayati in the conservative Coalition for Progress, formed for the presidential elections, announced at a meeting with students in Tehran that he did not agree with the president’s policy of Holocaust denial because it allowed the Israelis to use it as an excuse to act against Iran
(http://www.mehrnews.com/detail/News/2042506). Abu-Torabi Fard, member of the Coalition of Five, another conservative coalition formed for the elections, defined the Holocaust denial policy as “ill-considered” and argued that it did not do any good for the revolution (http://fararu.com/fa/news/147914). Mohsen Reza’i, who will likely run as an independent candidate in the coming elections, said at a student conference held at the Orumiyeh University in north Iran on April 18 that if he was president, he would choose another way to contend with Israel and would not be talking about the Holocaust (http://khabaronline.ir/detail/287756). Mohammad Shariatmadari, who is considered to be close to the reformist faction, also argued that bringing up the issue of the Holocaust has done no good for Iran, and that Ahmadinejad himself regretted the statements he had made on the issue, which is why he did not reiterate them later on. He noted that the argument according to which the Zionists occupied Palestine because of the Holocaust is incorrect, and that the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust (http://www.etemaad.ir/Released/92-02-11/204.htm#237090).
Media affiliated with the president’s political rivals also criticized his policy of Holocaust denial, which he has promoted since assuming office in 2005. An article published in Tehran Emrooz, a daily affiliated with the mayor of Tehran, said that Iran has to pursue its struggle against its enemies in such a way that will not give them excuses to hit the main objectives of the revolution. The article, written by poet and journalist Mohammad Hossein Ja’farian, said that the manner in which the president brought up the issue of the Holocaust did not help the Palestinians and only damaged Iran’s vital interests. The Israelis themselves admitted, according to Ja’farian, that the Holocaust denial helped Israel win international support against Iran. The aspirations of the Palestinian people are to be supported by providing assistance to Hezbollah and Hamas, not by parroting perfectly useless remarks made by advisors
Farda News, a website affiliated with the pragmatic wing of the conservative camp, also argued that Holocaust denial has galvanized public opinion. In addition, not only it did not step up pressure on Israel, it also gave legitimacy to its illegal claims in Europe and the United States. The website noted that while pre-Ahmadinejad Iranian leaders also brought up the issue of the Holocaust, they did so to point out the hypocrisy of the Western countries when it comes to the freedom of expression, not to start a historical debate on the subject.
The website stressed that the criticism of Ahmadinejad bringing up the issue isn’t targeted at the substance of his claims about the reality of the Holocaust but rather at the use of bringing up the issue and the heavy price Iran had to pay as a result. Bringing up the issue was a contributing factor for the resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council on the anti-Iranian sanctions. It also strengthened the anti-Islamic school of thought in the Western media. Israel, on the other hand, benefited greatly from it. The U.N. General Assembly approved the decision to put Holocaust deniers on trial and Israel took advantage of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial to mobilize the Western countries and a considerable part of world public opinion to support its military threats against Iran (http://www.fardanews.com/fa/news/259097). However, the president’s critics did not question the validity of his arguments and views, or bring up a moral and value-based argument that the Holocaust did happen.
Support for the Holocaust denial policy from the radical right
On the other side of the debate, the criticism of the Holocaust denial policy drew strong reactions from the radical right-wing faction of the conservative camp. The Bibak News website argued that Qalibaf’s remarks go against the position of the Supreme Leader. The website listed several examples from speeches given by Khamenei these past several years in which he supported questioning the reality of the “Holocaust myth”, attacked the Western countries for their policy towards Holocaust deniers, and referred to the Holocaust as an excuse used by the Zionists to justify their aggression against the Palestinians (http://www.bibaknews.com/shownews.php?idnews=2681).
Rasa News, a news agency close to the religious establishment in the city of Qom, also strongly criticized the position taken by the president’s rivals on the issue of Holocaust denial. A commentary article published by the agency said that the Supreme Leader defined the offensive foreign policy pursued by Ahmadinejad’s government, including the policy of denying the Holocaust, as one of its strong points and expressed clear views on Israel and the Holocaust. The issue of the Holocaust is one of the most important factors underpinning the establishment of “the artificial regime of Israel”, and by bringing it up, the president helped erode the foundations of the Zionist regime and strengthen its critics across the globe. The presidential hopefuls would be advised to look into the statements made by Khomeini and Khamenei before expressing their opinions on various issues, the article said. Pertinent criticism of the government’s policy is acceptable, but attacking its successes is a strategic mistake that could hurt the regime. The candidates had better not play the game played by Iran’s enemies, but rather present programs aimed at solving the problems facing Iranians, raising the banner of Islamic pride and struggle against imperialism (http://rasanews.ir/NSite/FullStory/News/?Id=163850).
Raja News, a website affiliated with the radical right, lashed out against Qalibaf and argued that his views are baffling and go against those held by Khamenei. It is unclear, the website said, how he can claim that bringing up the issue of the Holocaust is intended to give an excuse to Iran’s enemies, when the founder of the Islamic revolution clearly expressed the need to eliminate Israel and the Supreme Leader refers to the Holocaust as a “myth”. Raja News mocked Qalibaf, and wondered whether it is too hard for technocrats like him to understand the foreign policy principles of a conflict with the “world arrogance”
Presidential candidate Kamran Bagheri Lankarani also justified the policy of denying the Holocaust. Lankarani has recently been announced as a candidate for the Steadfast Front (Jebhe-ye Paydari), which is affiliated with the radical right wing of the conservative camp and is supported by radical cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. Speaking at a press conference held last week, Lankarani rejected the claim that the president’s bringing up the issue of the Holocaust was one of the weak points of his foreign policy. Denying the Holocaust and “criticizing Zionist thought”, he said, are based on the revolution founder’s principles, and these are the principles on which the Iranian diplomacy needs to be based
Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mehdi Ta’eb, chairman of the central council of the Ammar Headquarters, a think tank affiliated with the radical wing of the conservative camp, also spoke out against those who criticize the Holocaust denial policy and said that bringing up the issue of the Holocaust is “Ahmadinejad’s strong point”. Ta’eb, who is affiliated with the Steadfast Front, voiced reservations about the president’s messianic views and his relationship with his controversial ally Rahim Masha’i, but argued that those who criticize his policy of Holocaust denial are mistaken (http://rasanews.ir/NSite/FullStory/News/?Id=164121).
The Holocaust denial policy as a controversial topic in the 2009 elections
The Holocaust denial policy also became a controversial topic in the 2009 presidential elections. Ahmadinejad's opponents, particularly the reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, strongly condemned the policy, claiming that it was isolating Iran on the international scene and serving Israel’s interests. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad and his supporters argued in favor of the Holocaust denial policy, and said that questioning the validity of the Holocaust and its extent was the way to undermine the Zionist identity and the very legitimacy of the State of Israel. Of all the presidential candidates, reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi expressed particularly strong views on Holocaust denial. However, he, too, attempted to play down the Holocaust.
Then, as in the current election campaign, the criticism of the Holocaust denial policy could be seen as an inseparable part of a larger attack mounted by the president’s opponents against his provocative foreign policy, rather than as authentic criticism of making political use of the Holocaust to advance the regime’s objectives and delegitimize Israel.
 For more details, see our June 7 Information Bulletin, "The hate industry: Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial policy has turned into one of the controversial issues ahead of Iran’s presidential election” (http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/18267).