Sunday, May 15, 2016

Iran both saves Jews and denies the Shoah

To mark Palestinian Nakba Day,  a second contest of 150 anti-Israeli cartoons from 50 countries has opened in the Iranian capital Tehran. Seth Frantzman in the Jerusalem Post  points out the paradox - while denying the Holocaust, Iran boasts that it saved Jews during the Second World War.
Iran's second Holocaust denial contest has opened in Tehran (photo: AFP)
Remember the “Iranian Schindler” who saved Jews during the Holocaust? That was the gist of the headline of a BBC article from 2012 profiling a book by Fariborz Mokhtari highlighting the role of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat in Paris who saved Iranian Jews from the Nazis. Three years later, Iran is once again hosting a Holocaust denial cartoon contest, even as its diplomats try to wriggle out of their shameful intolerance by presenting Iran as having saved the Jews during the Nazi period. How can you save people, and then mock and degrade their genocide? How can you take credit for doing good, while mocking mass death and suffering? If you are Iran you can; part of a carefully orchestrated charade in which the country boasts tolerance for Jews while trampling on history.

The back story to the Iran Holocaust cartoon contests is perplexing. In response to a Danish daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, publishing cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in 2006, an Iranian newspaper named Hamshahri decided to mock the Holocaust. The newspaper claimed that it was standing up to “Western hypocrisy” on free speech. There is a kind of tragic irony here. The Holocaust was a European crime against the Jews. In order to respond to a European newspaper mocking Islam, the Iranians decided to bash the Holocaust. In doing so they didn’t hurt Europe or Jyllands-Posten, they simply added to what European nations had already done to the Jewish people.

In 2015, after the jihadist attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in which 12 people were murdered, the Iranian “house of cartoon” decided to host a second annual Holocaust cartoon contest. It’s fascinating that the knee-jerk Iranian response to a French magazine’s perceived insulting of Islam was to mock the deaths of six million Jews.

At the same time Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the smiling face of Iran’s nuclear deal-makers, was on a charm offensive. He stressed in an interview with NBC in March that “Iran saved Jews three times in history...during the Second World War.” In the interview Zarif also said it was important to distinguish between Jews and Israel and boasted that there were 20,000 Jews in Iran, noting that “we’re not about annihilation of Jews.” The story of the “Iranian Schindler” is part of a narrative whereby Iran is presented as a savior, even though the 1943-era diplomat in question would probably be outraged by the sickening denials of the modern Iranian regime.

Yet the Holocaust cartoon contests continually make reference to the need to mock the Holocaust not only to get back at the West for its “free speech hypocrisy,” but also because the Holocaust was “pretext for the creation of Israel.” As such many of the cartoons show Palestinians dressed as Holocaust survivors.

Over the years the Iranian narrative of Iran being “tolerant” of Jews has become louder. The Jews of Iran are used by the regime to burnish its “diversity” credentials. The regime finds willing Orientalists abroad who soak up the myth.

Roger Cohen at The New York Times in 2009 claimed, “I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran – its sophistication and culture – than all the inflammatory rhetoric.”

What rhetoric? “The annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial,” according to Cohen.

Zarif made a similar point in his NBC interview, beginning a sentence with, “if we wanted to annihilate Jews...”

and then boasting of their paltry numbers in the Islamic Republic. Iran somehow gets credit for not exterminating Jews and, despite official Holocaust denial, for being “civil” to Jews. It’s like an American president being pro-slavery and expecting praise for not actually annihilating African- Americans. Yes, they were “civil” in the Old South.

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