The United States, Israel, and the “Anti-Semitic” Iran (Part 1) – Akbar Ganji/HuffPo
Ever since nuclear negotiations between the administration of President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – began, and especially after the Lausanne Accord was announced in April, the opponents of the nuclear agreement and in particular Israel have been trying to demonize Iran. The phenomenon is nothing new, but has taken on new dimensions as the foes of the agreement have been claiming that Iran and Iranians are anti-Semites, and thus cannot be trusted with any agreement. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have been hard at work to present a demonic image of Iran with the hope that it will convince the public that Iran must be attacked militarily. Their goal is to goad the United States to undertake such attacks, and in order to justify them, they have been making two grandiose claims, namely that, The Islamic Republic of Iran is an anti-Semitic regime, and Iranians too have been and are anti-Semitics.
Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that Iran intends to destroy Iran by creating another Holocaust, and has likened Iran to the Nazi regime; see for example here, here, and here. In his most recent speech to a joint session of the United States Congress, Netanyahu spoke about a, “powerful Persian viceroy named Haman” who “plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.”
The vast majority of stories in the Torah and the Quran are mythical, not reports of actual historical events. But, if Netanyahu intends to transform them to historical facts, he must also accept the fact that, according to the Torah, Jews committed genocide during that historical era, massacring 75,000 Iranians. Indeed, they have celebrated this event throughout history (Esther 9: 5-16). But, Netanyahu censors this part of the myth, because he is neither a theologian nor a man interested in the truth. He is after preventing a nuclear agreement with Iran and attacking that nation, and to achieve his goal he is willing to do whatever it takes.
When Netanyahu and other Israeli officials create such an anti-Iran atmosphere, Israel’s lobby and supporters “theorize” what they say in order to prepare the public for militarily attacks on the “demonic” Iran.
The important question is what is the truth? Are Iranian Jews not being discriminated against? Are they not being oppressed similar to their Muslim (both Sunni and Shiite) Iranian compatriots? Are Iranians, or at least the Islamic Republic’s leaders, not anti-Semitic?
The Historical Facts about anti-Semitisms
Anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon. There were many laws in Europe in the past that allowed systematic discrimination against the Jews, violating their rights. Anti-Semitism was considered “moral” and practiced by both European governments and their peoples. In order to teach his son about what was being done to the Jews in Vienna, Austria, Sigmund Freud’s father told him a story about what had happened to him
When I was a young man,” my [Sigmund’s] father said, “I went for a walk one Saturday. I was well dressed, and had a new fur cap on my head. A Christian came up to me and with a single blow knocked off my cap into the mud and shouted: ‘Jew!'” And what did you do, I asked. “I picked up my cap,” was his quiet reply.” (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IV, p. 147),
When Jews of Spain/Iberian Peninsula were escaping Christians’ anti-Semitism, they were taking refuge in Islamic nations. In his two books, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, and Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery, historian Bernard Lewis has repeatedly acknowledged this historic fact. In her book, The Ornament of the World (p. 85), Maria Rosa Menocal shows that when Spain was ruled by Muslims, the Jews were transformed from a repressed minority group to one supported and strengthened by the Muslim rulers.
During World War II, many polish Jews escaped the Nazi occupation and moved to Iran. Abdol-Hossein Sardari, a diplomat in Iran’s embassy in Paris, issued Iranian passports and visa for many of the Jews, so that they could escape to Iran. He is referred to as the “Iranian Schindler.” Iranians were very hospitable to such Jews, and provided a comfortable life for them.
But, during the first half of the 20th century Jews from all over the world moved to Palestine and founded the state of Israel. Israel presents itself as the “Jewish state” for the Jews’ tribe, has occupied the Palestinians’ lands at least since 1967, and has committed crimes against them that the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has referred to them as war crimes.
The Meaning of Anti-Semitism
Words have no meaning other than their applications. At the same time, in using words one cannot have double standards. The word “anti” should have exactly the same meaning when used in anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, anti-Arab, anti-Iran, anti-Israel, anti-American, etc. To prevent any criticism of what they do, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials claim that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism. Netanyahu even accused the UNHRC of anti-Semitism, because the Council accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. In his speech to the UN General Assembly on 29 September 2014, Netanyahu said,
“The [UN Human Right] Council’s biased treatment of Israel is only one manifestation of the return of the world’s oldest prejudices. We hear mobs today in Europe call for the gassing of Jews. We hear some national leaders compare Israel to the Nazis. This is not a function of Israel’s policies. It’s a function of diseased minds. And that disease has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism.”
If criticizing Israel is anti-Semitism, then criticizing Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and other Islamic nations is also anti-Islam and spreading Islamophobia. But, in fact, criticizing any government does not imply being against any religion. Thus, one must differentiate between criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism. In an interview with The Atlantic on May 21, President Barak Obama took up this issue. He said that some people have reduced Judaism to what Israel does, so that if anyone criticizes Israel, he is considered an anti-Semite. The President added,
“If you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.”
Thus, we must move toward defensible meanings for words. If we hold the United States, or Iran, or Israel, or Saudi Arabia responsible for all the problems in the world or in the Middle East, then we are being anti-America, anti-Israel, anti-Iran, etc. If we attribute everything immoral to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Baha’ism, then we are being anti-Semite, anti-Christianity, anti-Islam or anti-Baha’ism. Such a discourse that separates “us” from “them” and tries to dehumanize “them” eventually leads to eliminating “them” from humanity.
Research by the Anti-Defamation League has shown that, in the entire Middle East (except Israel obviously), anti-Semitism is the least in Iran, and that Iran is not even among the top 20 countries in the world when it comes to anti-Semitism. One of the questions that the researchers asked the people of the Middle East, as well as Americans, was whether the Jews speak about the Holocaust too much. 16% of Yemenis, 18% of Iranians, 22% of Americans, 22% of the Saudis, 23% of Egyptians, 24% of Kuwaitis, 26% of Lebanese, 29% of Jordanians, 33% of Iraqis, 42% of Omanis, 45% in the United Arab Emirates, 51% of Bahrainis, 52% of Qataris, and 64% of the Palestinians living in the West Bank responded affirmatively. So, even the Americans believed in the issue more strongly than Iranians.
Of course, the criteria that are used for identifying anti-Semitism are central to reducing or increasing the spread of the phenomenon. Suppose, for example, that one criterion is whether the Jews have won more Nobel Prize than any other people. If someone responds positively to the question, would he/she be an anti-Semite? Netanyahu tells anyone who is willing to listen that anyone who opposes Israel’s Jewish Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is anti-Semite. Is that a valid argument?
Let us consider another statistics, those on hate crimes in the United States. A 2013 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that, of all the hate crimes only 17.4% were religion-related. Surprisingly, 60.3% of the victims were Jews, 13.7% were Muslim, 6.1% were Catholic, 3.8% were Protestant. Thus, in the United States, the most important ally of Israel, Jews are by far the largest group of victims of hate crimes. Does that mean that the U.S. is a strongly anti-Semitic nation?
In subsequent parts of this series we will describe and discuss the state of Iranian Jews living in Iran and address the question of anti-Semitism, both in the Iranian society and in the government.