Global Affairs

Twitter Controversies Call Attention to “Pro-Engagement” Misreporting, Iranian Holocaust Denial

A controversy over a tweet sent out in the name of Iran’s newly inaugurated president Hassan Rouhani – which would have seen the revolutionary cleric wishing Jews a “blessed Rosh Hashanah” – was evaluated this morning with a blistering postmortem in the Wall Street Journal. The greeting was quickly denied by Iranian state-run media, which published a denial quoting a Rouhani advisor clarifying that the account and the message were not sanctioned by the president.

Iran expert Sohrab Ahmari noted that the greeting, though by any estimation jarringly out of character for an Iranian official, was uncritically rebroadcast and celebrated by certain Western analysts and journalists. He suggests that a certain degree of introspection might be in order:

For starters, it’s worth noting how pro-engagement journalists and analysts, in their rush to hail a new era of dialogue and mutual respect between Washington and Tehran, neglected basic reportorial duties like follow-up and verification. The Rouhani account in question has more than 30,000 followers, yet it isn’t verified by Twitter, meaning there’s no way of knowing if its messages are approved by Mr. Rouhani’s office.

Second, even assuming that the Rosh Hashanah message was intended by its putative author, the fact that the regime repudiated it within 24 hours is evidence that Tehran remains hard-wired for resistance and extremism.

The reporting errors regarding the alleged Rouhani tweet came amid another Twitter-driven controversy. This one was driven by a post of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in which Zarif claimed that Iran never denied the Holocaust, and that the man who did – presumably former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – was no longer in power.

The claim is categorically false. In 2006 Iranian Supreme Leader Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told Iranian air force servicemen that the Holocaust was a “myth.” Excerpts from the speech is posted on the supreme leader’s personal webpage:

“Western countries allow no freedom of expression, which they claim to advocate, with regard to the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the holocaust, and nobody in the West enjoys the freedom of expression to deny it or raise doubts about it. But affronting the sanctities of about 1.5 billion Muslims is permissible in the West,” the Leader noted.

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