Iran both saves Jews and denies the Shoah

To mark Palestinian Nakba Day,  a second contest of 150 anti-Israeli cartoonsfrom 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.

x

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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