Diplomacy

Khamenei Holocaust Denial, “Jewish State” Comments Signal Hardened Iranian Stance

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday described the Holocaust as “uncertain” and blasted Israel’s long-standing demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in the context of any comprehensive peace agreement, the latest in a string of statements from the top Iranian figure that align uneasily with analyst hopes that he will permit the country to moderate its foreign policy.

In an address to a large crowd of people in Iran’s northeastern city of Mashhad, Khamenei questioned whether the Holocaust had ever happened, saying that “the Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and, if it happened, it’s uncertain how it happened.” “Does anybody dare talk about Holocaust in Europe?” Khameini asked.

Regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, Khameini said: “They want to turn Palestine into a country where Muslims and Christians cannot live; to terminate Palestine, so to speak.”

In January, Khamenei branded the United States as “the Satan” and declared that “nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims.” In February, he predicted that ongoing talks would “not lead anywhere.” Both of Khamenei’s comments may generate political controversy. Holocaust denial has routinely been treated as a proxy for Iranian rationality and moderation – statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif implying doubt as to its existence were hotly contested exactly for that reason – and pathological anti-Semitism on the part of the Supreme Leader may strengthen the case of those who are skeptical toward ongoing nuclear negotiations.

Meanwhile the so-called “Jewish state” issue has recently regained coverage after tangled comments by Secretary of State John Kerry were interpreted as evidence that Foggy Bottom was backing away from its previous efforts to incorporate such recognition into any framework agreement. The move would be an odd one for the State Department to take.

Kerry had as recently as early March declared that a U.S.-backed peace deal would include “mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people,” and had gone so far as to declare that the condition was well-known, shared by “everybody,” and “straightforward.” The stance was explicitly cited and reemphasized roughly a week later by the Obama administration’s Jewish liaison Matt Nosanchuk.

[Photo: Sezdah BeDar / YouTube]