By Paolo von Schirach
September 28, 2013
WASHINGTON – In New York for the UN General Assembly, freshly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wanted to show to the West that he is not a crazy zealot like his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In order to prove that he is sensitive about “hot button issues” like the traditional official Iranian position that the Holocaust did not take place, he talked about it during a CNN interview. But what did he really say? According to a CNN translation from Farsi he basically admitted that the Holocaust did happen and that it was in fact about the extermination of the Jewish people. If this were really so, then we should call this first ever public “admission” a major new mile stone, possibly a prelude to the end of official Iranian “doctrine” whereby the Jewish state (established in large part because of the desire to give the Jewish people a home after the Holocaust) should not exist. Hence Israel’s justifiable concerns as to what kind of plans Iran might have, once it managed to create nuclear weapons. Do they have any particular target in mind?
“Holocaust” not mentioned
Well, as it turned out, President Rouhani did not use the word “Holocaust” in his CNN interview. While he talked in general terms about Nazi war crimes, he did not indicate that the Nazis were determined to exterminate the Jews.
Moreover, in a subsequent speech at the Council on Foreign Relation in New York Rouhani condemned Nazi war crimes, adding however that “regrettably those [Nazi] crimes were committed against many groups, many people were killed, including a group of Jewish people”.
So, this is the Iranian first official “admission” that a Holocaust took place: “A group of Jewish people were killed“.
Does this matter?
You may argue that none of this really matters, because what is important here is to see whether it may be possible to get a deal so that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. “Let’s stick with the real issue and forget about the way in which the Iranian leaders talk about an event, however tragic, that is really in the past”.
Not so. We should not gloss over the fact that Rouhani was deliberately trying to be clever, giving a little bit away, (“some Jews were killed“), without even remotely conceding the larger point about Hitler’s deliberate and open attempt at extermination.
Yes, it does?
Again this no mere detail. As Holocaust denial is a pillar of the anti-Israel policy openly embraced and constantly repeated by the Iranian leaders, it does matter to determine whether this doctrine stands or has been repudiated. The unwillingness to clearly recognize an established historical fact and its implications is not just a harmless Iranian cultural peculiarity to be left alone. It is evidence of an ideology that is still openly hostile to a key US ally.
We are not negotiating with friends
That does not mean that we should not negotiate with the Iranians. If there is such a possibility, we should engage the new Iranian President and see where this may lead. But one thing is to assume that we are negotiating with a counterpart that has finally come around and that is now sharing, at least in part, our worldview.
Quite another to realistically admit that Iran’s new President, while different from his predecessor, still subscribes to an ideology that is still fundamentally hostile to the West.