Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Consistency of Official Iranian Commentary:
Are Rouhani's Statements Really a Huge Break from the Past?

Christiane Amanpour and Hassan Rouhani (Photo: CNN)

While interviewing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Christiane Amanpour declared, “One of the things your predecessor used to do from this very platform was deny the Holocaust and pretend that it was a myth,” before asking his his thoughts on the Holocaust.

Rouhani replied, though hedging a bit, “I can say that any crime that is committed in history against humanity, such as the crimes committed by the Nazis, whether against Jews or non-Jews, from our viewpoint is completely condemned. Just as if today a crime is committed against any nation, religion, ethnicity or belief, we condemn that crime or genocide.”

He continued:
Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemnable. The dimensions of it which you say, is the responsibility of historians and researchers to make those dimensions clear. I am not a historian myself.
However, this point should be clear: If a crime took place, that crime should not be a cover for a nation or group to justify their crimes or oppression against others. Therefore, if the Nazis committed a crime, and however much it was, we condemn that, because genocide or mass murder is condemned.
From our viewpoint, it doesn’t matter if the person killed is Jewish, Christian or Muslim. From our viewpoint, [it] does not make difference. Killing an innocent human is rejected and condemned. But this cannot be a reason for 60 years to displace a people from their land and say that the Nazis committed crimes. That crime [too] is condemned; occupying the land of others is also condemned from our viewpoint.
When you hear all this hoopla about how an Iranian official finally admitted the historical reality of the Holocaust, remember this:

During his now-infamous appearance at Columbia University in September 2007, Ahmadinejad referred to the Holocaust as "a present reality of our time, a history that occurred" and continued rhetorically:
…given this historical event, if it is a reality, we need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it or not. After all, it happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role to play in it. So why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price of an event they had nothing to do with?
The Palestinian people didn't commit any crime. They had no role to play in World War II. They were living with the Jewish communities and the Christian communities in peace at the time. They didn’t have any problems.
And today, too, Jews, Christians and Muslims live in brotherhood all over the world in many parts of the world. They don’t have any serious problems.
But why is it that the Palestinians should pay a price, innocent Palestinians, for 5 million people to remain displaced or refugees abroad for 60 years. Is this not a crime?
He summed up his perspective this way: "I am not saying that it [the Holocaust] didn’t happen at all. This is not that judgment that I am passing here. I said…granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?"

Such comments echoed Ahmadinejad’s earlier statements. In mid-December 2005, early in his tenure as president, Ahmadinejad was already employing the rhetorical device of asking a question in order to prove a point. ”If the killing of Jews in Europe is true,” he said at a conference in Tehran, “and the Zionists are being supported because of this excuse, why should the Palestinian nation pay the price?” He repeated this question a few days later at a rally in southern Iran, and reiterated his position in early 2006.

In comments reported by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Ahmadinejad asked rhetorically, “Don’t you think that continuation of genocide by expelling Jews from Europe was one of their [the Europeans'] aims in creating a regime of occupiers of Al-Quds [Jerusalem]?” Here, Ahmadinejad is clearly affirming the Nazi “genocide” – which he called a “human tragedy” – and noting that the subsequent European endorsement of Zionism – which he called a “Western ideology and imperialistic idea” – and encouragement of Jewish emigration from Europe to Palestine constituted another form of ethnic cleansing.

“Why don’t the Europeans who perpetrated the crime pay the price themselves?” the Iranian president asked, adding, “In fact, the Europeans have practiced ethnic cleansing against the Jews in Europe by expelling the Jews from all the European states.”

In a letter sent to German leader Angela Merkel in September 2006, Ahmadinejad noted, “Using the excuse for the settlement of the survivors of the Holocaust, they encouraged the Jews worldwide to migrate and today a large part of the inhabitants of the occupied territories are non-European Jews. If tyranny and killing is condemned in one part of the world, can we acquiesce and go along with tyranny, killing, occupation and assassinations in another part of the world simply in order to redress the past wrongs?”

This acknowledgement of past wrongs and questioning their exploitation and the legitimacy of their consequences was echoed in February 2007 by Ali Akbar Velayati, a close advisor to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei. Speaking with European journalist Bernard Guetta about the claims of Iranian Holocaust denial, he stated, “One may wonder about that genocide’s number of victims without denying that it took place, and, may I remind you on this topic, that it was committed by Europeans, Nazis, and that the way to that massacre had been prepared by all the European persecutions of the preceding centuries, beginning with those organized by Spain?”

When asked directly whether he believes “the [Nazi Holocaust] genocide is a historical reality,” Velayati was clear: “Yes,” he said, “but we do not agree that this reality should be used to justify the oppression of the Palestinians.”

In an interview with Asia Source the same month, Mohammad Javad Zarif - then Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations and currently Iran's Foreign Minister under Rouhani - delivered this comprehensive response to the often-asked question of whether President Ahmadinejad "denies the Holocaust":
He never has denied the Holocaust. He has said why is it that Palestinians have to pay the price for a crime that was committed somewhere else? Did the Palestinians have any role in it?
The Holocaust was an atrocity, it was a genocide, and not the only genocide. Genocides are taking place in today's world. We had the genocide in Rwanda. We've had genocide, ethnic cleansing, in Yugoslavia. But did anybody else become the victim of these genocides, who had nothing to do with them, in order to address the wrongs that were done to the victims? Why is it that the Palestinians have to pay the price for a horrible crime that was committed against the Jewish people by the Europeans. Not by the Muslims, not by Middle Easterners. This is a question.
Now some people do not like to answer this question so they use sentimental statements of Holocaust denier and statements of the sort. The question that needs to be asked is whether crimes that have been committed can in fact be the basis of committing other crimes. If the slogan is, "Never again," then it should be "Never again for anybody" not just for one group. Never again for Palestinians. Never again for Rwandese. Never again for Bosnian Muslims. Never again for Jews. Never again for anybody.
And I simply do not understand why so much acrimony is being built around this simple question: What did the Palestinians have to do with the Holocaust?
With this in mind, consider this statement from 1956:
If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country… There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their [the Palestinians'] fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance.
Who could have possibly said that?

David Ben-Gurion.



In response to this post, the purpose of which is to demonstrate a certain consistency in official Iranian statements over the years that is often ignored by the mainstream press, longtime Mondoweiss critic Armin Rosen tweeted this:

Condemning Mondoweiss or myself as trafficking in Holocaust revisionism is absurd. Nowhere in the above post are any of the comments made by Iranian officials endorsed or justified. Furthermore, the attention paid to what Iranians say about the horrifying and undeniable systematic extermination of millions of Jews by the Nazis – something no Iranian had anything to do with – is, in itself, curious.

There is no doubt that, in addition to the quotes listed above, Ahmadinejad has said a number of more inflammatory comments regarding the Holocaust, often questioning the scope of the genocide and insisting that more research be conducted. Holocaust skepticism – and appealing to historians over politicians to seek answers – is surely one aspect of (if not tantamount to) Holocaust denial. While Ahmadinejad has said, ”I believe the Holocaust from what we’ve read happened during World War II, after 1930, in the 1940s,” he has also been quoted as calling the Holocaust a “big lie.”

It should also be noted that, in official Iranian discourse, no mention of the Holocaust goes without an attendant reference to the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. The purpose of doing so, it would appear, is not necessarily to even equate these two distinct tragedies, but rather to explicitly question and condemn the exploitation of the Holocaust in order to justify the subsequent ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine.

Over the course of his public and private appearances this week, Rouhani’s repeated comments on the Holocaust continue to follow the official Iranian line, while, admittedly addressing the accusation of “denial” directly.

On Wednesday morning, he told a gathering of journalists and editors, “The Nazis committed a crime in World War II. As to the scale of the massacres, and the numbers that my predecessor mentioned, let’s leave that to the historians,” adding that the Nazis committed a “massacre that cannot be denied – especially against the Jewish people,” he said, calling it a “horrendous crime.”

At the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday night, Rouhani said:
I think that I have responded in one or two interviews in which I was asked about it and I explained that we condemn the crimes by Nazis in the World War II and regrettably those crimes were committed against many groups, many people, many people were killed including a group of Jewish people. And we condemn their crimes.
In general, we condemn the murder and killing of innocent people always. It makes no difference to us. When that person is innocent and is killed, whether he or she was Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim, there’s just no difference in our eyes. We condemn crimes as such.
But the argument here is that if the Nazis committed a crime, this does not mean that the price paid for it should be done by other people elsewhere. This should not serve as any justification to push out from their homes a group of people because of what Nazis did.
To claim that these comments are so divergent from repeated statements made by Ahmadinejad would be disingenuous. What is different with this new Iranian president, however, is an unwillingness – and hopefully no interest – in deliberately poking Western and Israeli taboos, something his predecessor clearly relished. Gone are the days of Holocaust Conferences and nauseating cartoon contests.

There is no doubt that the horror of the Holocaust is constantly used by Israeli leaders and their acolytes here in the United States to fear-monger, demonize and beat the drums of war against Iran. In a recent column, M.J. Rosenberg deftly articulated very wise words about the issue of Iranian Holocaust comments:
I wish Rouhani would just drop the ugly and offensive quibbling about the Holocaust. All he needs to do is speak the truth: the Holocaust happened; 6,000,000 Jews were killed along with millions of others; and all the mass killing constituted a crime against humanity. Period. End of controversy. Friend of both truth and peace celebrate: the war lobby weeps.
But Rouhani resists that kind of formulation, although he does condemn the Holocaust, albeit a little vaguely.
So what?
If Rouhani is prepared to negotiate over nuclear weapons, why do we care what he says about the Holocaust (it would be different if he acknowledged it and endorsed it). The government of Turkey, our NATO ally, denies the Armenian genocide and Turkey perpetrated it. Japan, our closest friend in Asia, still denies the Rape of Nanking and all the other war crimes Japan committed in China in the 1930′s. Congress forced the Smithsonian Institute to eviscerate its exhibit on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for hinting that there might have been alternatives to using nuclear weapons. There are dozens of more examples, maybe even more than dozens.
But again, so what?
Denying the Holocaust is ugly and stupid but so is the “Holocaust denial industry,” by which I mean those who profit by saying the Holocaust didn’t happen and those who profit by obsessing over what they consider to be Holocaust denial. (In that later category, I include those who consider it Holocaust denial if one dares to say that people other than Jews were Holocaust victims every bit as much as Jews were.) All these people desecrate the memories of the victims, — all the victims but especially the 6,000,000 Jews who are being used to score political points.
Enough already.

Originally posted at Mondoweiss.



September 30, 2013 - In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, which aired on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday September 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the Holocaust as a "heinous crime" and a "genocide." He also addressed an oft-referenced phrase - rendered as "the myth of the massacre of Jews" - which appears in a translation of a February 2006 speech by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamanei.

"The Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody's talking about a myth," Zarif said, calling the phrase "a bad translation."

"This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English, you may lose something, as the film goes, 'Lost in Translation,' you may lose some of the meaning," he continued, adding:
We condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it’s happening in Palestine... [The] Holocaust was a heinous crime, it was a genocide, it must never be allowed to be repeated, but that crime cannot be and should not be a justification to trample the rights of the Palestinian people for 60 years.


October 1, 2013 - It is unsurprising that career champions of right-wing Zionism and military conflict with Iran aren't fans of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

For instance, Jonathan Tobin - the neoconservative caricature senior online editor of Commentary Magazine - is, among other things, upset over Rouhani's recent remarks about the Holocaust because of his "I'm not a historian" caveat when discussing the scope of the Nazi genocide.

"The point is," Tobin wrote this past week, "if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier."

With this in mind, one might recall an anecdote recounted by Yossi Sarid, former Israeli parliamentarian and current Ha'aretz columnist, a year after the Mavi Marmara massacre, when Israeli relations with Turkey were at their worst. During his years in the Knesset (1974-2006), Sarid had long advocated for the Israeli government, with its historically strong ties to Turkey, to urge formal recognition of the Armenian genocide, only to be rebuffed time and again due to political convenience. Recalling one interaction in particular, Sarid wrote in late 2011:
Eleven years ago, on the 85th memorial day, I went to the Armenian church in Jerusalem, and as "a human being, as a Jew, as an Israeli and as the minister of education of the State of Israel" - that is how I introduced myself - I spoke about the historical justice that must be done, about the special commitment of the Jewish people to the Armenian people, and about my plan to teach our students the universal significance of genocide.
The scandal erupted immediately. My prime minister objected sharply, and Ehud Barak was swiftly joined by Shimon Peres: "These events," he said, "should be left to historians and not to politicians."
I wonder if Jonathan Tobin believes Barak and Peres to be genocide deniers. If he does, he should say so.



February 3, 2014 - Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday February 2, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif disassociated the Rouhani administration from its successor, saying, "Of course we don't make the same statement the previous government made. But [Israeli] policies have deprived the Palestinian people of the most elemental rights. Until this is discussed the crisis is not going away."

When asked directly about the Holocaust, Zarif replied that it was "tragically cruel and should not happen again," adding, "We have nothing against the Jews. We do not feel threatened by anyone."

"The rights of the Palestinians have been violated by Israel for 60 years," Zarif reiterated.

The following day, Zarif told the German Council of Foreign Relations, "We will not start a military operation against anyone - I say: against anyone," and conducted a lengthy interview with Germany’s Phoenix TV, during which he was - obviously - asked about the Holocaust.

He stated:
Well, let me make it clear. I come from a tradition where, according to Islamic scripture, the killing of one individual is unforgivable, let alone killing millions. A horrifying tragedy occurred and it should never occur again. 
But that should not provide an excuse for violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.



Amir said...

Since the topic is "official Iranian commentary", it's worth noting what kind of "commentary" appears on official Islamic Republic media:

atheo said...

Of course, Ahmadinejad's position on the Nazi holocaust is correct. And, of course, Rouhani's position does not actually contradict Ahmadinejad's.

But these facts could never be commented upon at Mondoweiss or any other lite-Zionist site.