"The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are Zionists and their aim is to divert the minds of Muslims from the United States’ and Israel’s sinister plan for the region."
These are the words of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, issued in a statement on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
"The great and unforgivable sin of a French publication insulting the radiant and holy face of the Holy Prophet once again exposed the stubborn hatred of the political and cultural institutions of the Western world against Islam and the Muslim community,” the statement reads. “The excuse of freedom of speech for not condemning this great crime, as stated by some French politicians, is completely rejected, wrong, and demagogic. The deeply anti-Islamic policies of the Zionists and arrogant governments are the cause of such hostile moves, which occur only once in a while. This move at this time could also be a motive to distract the minds of the nations and governments of Western Asia from the sinister plans that the United States and the Zionist regime have in mind for this region. Muslim nations, especially those in Western Asia, must never forget the hostility of Western politicians and leaders toward Islam and Muslims, while maintaining vigilance on the issues of this sensitive region."
So who or what is a Zionist and what has it got to do with Charlie Hebdo? Is the publication Zionist? Are the cartoonists and journalists working for it Zionist? In an attempt to answer this question and verify the Iranian authorities’ claim, IranWire looks at the information available.
What is Zionism?
Zionism is a political movement founded in the nineteenth century by Theodor Herzl with the aim of creating a homeland for the Jewish people. Herzl emphatically and passionately encouraged Jews to emigrate to Israel, and felt strongly that Jewish people should leave Europe. Many Jewish people embraced his ideas and his hopes that Jews would succeed in this aim of a shared homeland. Gradually, however, religious differences among different Jewish communities led to a division among them, in particular over Zionism. As a result, Zionism is more of an ideology and a political school than a religious ideal. At the same time, support for the creation of the state of Israel was widely supported.
So can the state of Israel be classified as a Zionist state? "No government in Israel has rejected the Zionist ideology because rejecting it is a denial of Israel's existence," Dr. Farzin Vahdat, a sociologist and former lecturer at Harvard and Yale universities, told IranWire. "But not all [Israeli] governments have had the same view of this movement. Left-leaning governments, such as the Israeli Labor Party, have paid greater attention to Palestinian rights, and right-wing governments, such as the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have been less attentive to Palestinian matters. Therefore, it can be said that the intellectual basis of the government in Israel stems from the ideology of Zionism, without the existence of a party or organization [that uses the name] Zionism."
The Zionist ideology, although it sought to create a homeland for Jewish people, was unable to reach the consensus of all Jewish communities, so much so that some Jewish clerics refused to defend or support the philosophy. Throughout the years, there have always been Jewish leaders who have voiced opposition to Zionism.
According to Farzin Vahdat, the founders of the Zionist ideology were secular, and not fanatically religious, Jews.
Is There Such a Thing as Global Zionism?
"The Zionist movement was an international movement,” says Farzin Vahdat. “Its creators attempted to invite Jews from all over the world to the land of Israel. The International Organization of Zionism was also established. In this sense, it can be said that Zionism is a global movement, but the phrase ‘global Zionism’ cannot be understood as an imperialist goal as it is propagated by the Islamic Republic. It is the propaganda of the Islamic Republic that uses Zionism on the same level as imperialism."
According to Vahdat, the notion that Zionism emerged from imperialist activity in the Middle East as a means of controlling Islamic countries is a conspiracy theory. So too is the argument some Europeans have put forward that Zionism is a movement that sets out to conquer the entire world. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated document of a plan for Jewish world domination, is an example of anti-Semitic activities in Europe and the United States that stemmed from this deluded conspiracy. "At first, the attempt to form an Israeli government was not even welcomed by the United States, and Israel has always had strong opponents in the United States,” Vahdat says.
Is Charlie Hebdo Zionist?
The weekly French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has stated that its editorial policy is anti-racist and anti-religious. The publication says it takes a critical view of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Charlie Hebdo has a long history of championing this brand of criticism, and since its establishment in 1992, it has used humor and satire to scrutinize a wide range of subjects and issues. Its editors insist the publication is committed to and celebrates freedom of expression.
The magazine has consistently poked fun at all religions, but its mockery of Islam has famously been its riskiest endeavor.
On January 7, 2015, two gunmen entered the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire. They killed eight journalists, a building caretaker and a visitor to the building. They later also murdered two police officers.
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the French Declaration of Civil Rights, which is upheld in the country’s constitution. It is also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which France ratified in 1974. According to the French Press Law of 1881, the press is free to publish opinion. “But this freedom has limits,” says the French government. “Racism, anti-Semitism, racial hatred, and justification of terrorism are not opinions. They are offenses.”
Other limits on freedom of expression in France can come into force “for the sake of protecting privacy, protecting the presumption of innocence, and preventing defamation and insults.” It can be limited to protect public order so “it is therefore illegal to incite others to commit a crime” and French law bans hate speech, "and speech denying or justifying the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity." Furthermore, “disrespecting the national anthem and flag in the context of public events organized or regulated by public authorities” is also illegal.
Apart from these limitations, French law allows commentary and publication of opinion on any issue. The prevailing culture of secularism in France has increased public acceptance of freedom of expression.
The United States has enshrined among the most rigorous legal support for freedom of expression in the world. But current president Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his hatred for Charlie Hebdo magazine on Twitter.
On the whole, Charlie Hebdo has not been widely admired by Western governments, including the US government. This is due to a wide range of complex political and ideological reasons.
Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a statement on Tuesday, 8 September 2020, claiming: "The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are Zionists and their aim is to divert the minds of Muslims from the United States’ and Israel’s sinister plan for the region."
After investigating this claim, IranWire concludes the following:
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine with an anti-racist and anti-religious editorial policy that does not distinguish between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in its critique of religions. It takes a critical approach to all three religions.
- Freedom of expression in Europe, especially in France, where there is a prevailing culture of secularism, allows for the publication of magazines such as Charlie Hebdo. It is not surprising that such a regard for freedom of expression is incomprehensible to countries run by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes.
- Zionist ideology is focused on the creation of a homeland for Jewish people of the world. However, in Iran and elsewhere, including throughout Europe, Zionism has been the focal point for conspiracy theories for many decades. The Islamic Republic’s own conspiracy narratives casts world events as being manipulated by Zionists, echoing claims and theories in Europe and the United States that Jewish people have a plot to conquer the world.
- Not only does the US government not support Charlie Hebdo, but Donald Trump has already publicly expressed his hatred of the magazine in several tweets.
Therefore, IranWire, based on statements from experts and lawmakers supporting freedom of expression and ensuring media independence in France, assesses that the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's claim that "Charlie Hebdo is Zionist and a tool of the global arrogance to carry out the US-Israel sinister plan for the region" is not true.
Not true: A false statement about a new specific event or something that has not been proven to be true before, using existing facts and evidence.
You can find out more about our fact-checking methodology here.
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