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The case of Iran

The case of Iran
As Dr. Webman has mentioned, antisemitism in the Muslim world today is usually not instilled by the governments themselves. A growing gap exists in most Muslim states between the official political stance toward Israel and the Jews, and popular negative and hostile attitudes expressed in the media. This being said, the governments in this sphere do tend to view antisemitic rhetoric in the media with a great deal of tolerance, allowing it to persist. This is often done as a means of diverting the attentions and anger of the masses from the governments themselves to the Jews and Israel. There is one state in the Muslim world where antisemitism and particularly Holocaust Denial, is propagated and sanctioned by the state itself, and that is Iran.
Since the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 which toppled the Shah’s monarchical government, Iran has defined itself as an Islamic republic. As such, the country is led by a highly conservative Shiite clerical elite. The highest power in the land is the Supreme Leader, who appoints the heads of the judiciary, military, and media and also confirms the election of the president. Following The death of the founder of the republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989, the Supreme Leader, has been the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been spearheading the antisemitic line of this state. Iran claims, on the one hand, that it is not antisemitic.
Iran claims that they have nothing against Jews - they are only anti Zionist and they demanded the elimination of the State of Israel. At the same time, if you look at the Iranian discourse - political, religious discourse after the Revolution, it is very clearly an antisemitic discourse. Not only Ayatollah Khomeini in his writings held very strong anti-Jewish positions, but if you look at the Iranian official discourse, we can see two major elements - one is the great discussion, very lively discussion on Jewish conspiracies against Islam, Jewish animosity - enmity toward the Prophet Muhammad which goes to this day.
Ironically, sometimes there’s a confluence between Judaism and Zionism when various Jewish tribes in 7th century Medina are described as Zionist tribes or when various Jews in the 11th century are described as Zionists. Moving to more modern period we see the resort to very clear antisemitic documents and texts. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been translated to Persian. They’ve been published repeatedly by the Iranian government both as books and, in serial chapters, in major newspapers. They’re being quoted by official spokesmen. We hear on Iranian TV by so-called academics describing the blood libel as a true historical fact and we also see the publications of anti-Jewish books and tracts.
And, for instance, another thing which we see in Iran is blogs and websites that are dedicated completely to antisemitism. And some of these blogs and websites called themselves anti- Zionist but in fact they contain anti-Jewish content. The reason is the belief that if Israel is an illegitimate state, only a vicious evil nation could establish such a state and commit such crimes against the Muslim population of the Middle-East and, therefore, if you want to understand Israel, and if you want to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, you have to go to the roots of the problem which is the Jewish people and its evil nature.
And, therefore, even though Iran claims not to be antisemitic, in fact the official discourse is antisemitic through and through. We have discussed the discourse regarding the Holocaust in the Muslim world and trends within it. How does Iran, a country that fosters state antisemitism, deal with the subject of the Holocaust? Iran believes the Holocaust served as a very important pillar in the justification of Zionism and also that the Holocaust served as a means for Israel that they use basically - they claim - to extort Western countries, especially Germany, to extort financial and political support.
Since the Iranians and, by the way, many the Muslim antisemites reject any historical or other justification for Zionism, and since they believe that the Holocaust serves as the basis for Western support for Israel, the belief is that if you can refute the historical veracity of the Holocaust, then you will destroy whatever justification, legitimacy that Israel has. Therefore, Holocaust denial has become I would say a semi-official position in Iran. Very often mistakenly it is attributed only to former President Ahmadinejad. But in fact Iran’s Supreme Leader Khomeini had resorted to Holocaust denial years before Ahmadinejad came to office. And we can see Holocaust denial to this day.
For instance, the United Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds an annual exhibition of antisemitic cartoons or cartoons related to the Holocaust which are designed to deny the Holocaust. So the Holocaust became a weapon that Iran uses against Israel to undermine whatever legitimacy Israel has.

Prof. Meir Litvak

As said before, antisemitism in the Muslim world today is usually not instilled by the governments themselves. A growing gap exists in most Muslim states between the official political stance toward Israel and the Jews, and popular negative and hostile attitudes expressed in the media. There is one state in the Muslim world, however, where antisemitism, and particularly Holocaust denial, is propagated and sanctioned by the state itself, and that is Iran.

How is antisemitism expressed in Iran today? What place do anti-Zionism and Holocaust denial hold in this country?


  • Gheissari, Ali ,ed., Contemporary Iran: Economy, Society, Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  • Keddie, Nikki R., Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).

  • Litvak, Meir, “Iranian Antisemitism: Continuity and Change,” in Charles Asher Small (ed.), Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity: Volume IV: Islamism and the Arab World (New York: ISGAP, 2013), pp. 55 – 66.

  • Litvak, Meir, “Iranian Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust,” in Anthony McElligott and Jeffrey Herf, eds., Antisemitism Before and Since the Holocaust: Altered Contexts and Recent Perspectives (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 205 – 221.

  • Litvak, Meir, Constructing Nationalism in Iran: from the Qajars to the Islamic Republic (London: Routledge, 2017).

  • Rusi, Jaspal, “Delegitimizing Jews and Israel in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Contest,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, vol. 13, no. 2 (2014), pp. 167 – 189.

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