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Anti-Everything and Anti-Everyone: Iran's Month in Hate Speech

December 1, 2023
Saleem Vaillancourt
6 min read
A month-long deluge of Persian-language antisemitic hate speech continued online this week, according to IranWire's tracking of influential social media accounts, with 66 percent of 110 posts targeting Jewish people
A month-long deluge of Persian-language antisemitic hate speech continued online this week, according to IranWire's tracking of influential social media accounts, with 66 percent of 110 posts targeting Jewish people

Hate speech may start with words but it can end in more than just tears – it can end with violence and even death. IranWire's "Iran's Week in Hate Speech" series tracks Persian-language social media posts and articles targeting religious groups in Iran with derogatory language, conspiracy theories and calls for violence. Our tracking is not exhaustive: we focus on influencers and websites with large followings and wide reach. The series is designed to inform the general public and to help social media companies exercise their responsibility to monitor and remove hate speech on their channels.

A month-long deluge of Persian-language antisemitic hate speech continued online this week, according to IranWire's tracking of influential social media accounts, with 66 percent of 110 posts targeting Jewish people.

The 74 antisemitic posts were published to online followings across Twitter/X and Instagram reaching more than 1.1 million direct followers. Posts such as these will have therefore reached a much larger overall audience online. And a further 14 news articles published by Iranian media outlets broadcast antisemitic hate speech to a staggering 9.4 million Iranians online.

Twenty-one anti-Baha'i posts were also recorded, as well as nine anti-Sunni posts, three general anti-Muslim or anti-Shia posts, three anti-Zoroastrian posts, two anti-Christian posts, and four anti-atheist comments.

One anti-Muslim post that reached 10,000 followers celebrated claims that a million Iranians had converted from "impure" Shia Islam to Christianity. And another comment reaching almost 6,000 followers conflated anti-Sunni language with hate speech targeting Iran's undocumented Afghan migrants.

Four of the posts tracked by IranWire also included anti-Baha'i propaganda. Two comments that together reached more than 100,000 followers claimed that Baha'is and Jews "forced" to convert from Judaism had together "committed theft" from Iranian state assets during the country's 1980-88 war with Iraq. The comment combined several antisemitic and anti-Baha'i tropes in one; that Baha'is forced Jews to convert from their religion that both communities plundered public funds for their own ends. Baha'is are Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority and have been persecuted by the Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A third post combining anti-semitism and anti-Baha'i hate speech, and reaching 10,000 followers, claimed that the "misleading [Baha'i] sect" was a "Zionist" sect and was responsible for most of Iran's problems.

And a post on X by Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) touched on the ban against Iranian athletes from competing against Israelis in international sporting tournaments. The IRNA tweet reported Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as saying that Iranians could not compete against "Zionist" athletes because they were "criminals" from a "criminal regime". IranWire has reported on this ongoing ban and related political scandals. Iran's Young Journalists Club (YJC) also reported Khamenei's statement for more than 520,000 readers.

The widest-reaching antisemitic media articles, one of which was published on Fars News, combined Shia and Sunni antisemitic sentiment when it quoted a statement from Al Azhar, the Cairo-based Sunni center of Islamic thought, which used violent language to attack Israel was "obsessed with killing children, women and innocents, and enjoys eating their flesh and sucking their blood". The Fars piece reached at least 744,000 people. A similar article went to YJC's 520,000 readers. Mehr News meanwhile published an article for its 676,000 readers quoting Mohsen Rezaei, Secretary of Iran's Expediency Discernment Council, who said Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu and many Jews have "Renfield's disease," also known as clinical vampirism, and that they enjoyed shedding the blood of animals.

But not all antisemitic posts were in support of the Islamic Republic. One Instagrammer – with an admittedly smaller reach, of just 263 direct followers – claimed Ali Khamenei and other prominent figures of the Islamic Republic are "secret Jews".

The Two Minutes (or Four Weeks) Hate

IranWire's new effort to track influential online accounts that spread hate speech started with two reports – on antisemitism, and calls for genocide – just this month. Antisemitism been a running problem in this period. The October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and the subsequent conflict in Gaza, has released torrents of antisemitic hate speech across hundreds of Iranian social media accounts.

More than 200 antisemitic Persian-language social media posts and media articles reaching at least 3-4 million people were recorded by IranWire.

The surge in antisemitic content chimed with a New York Times report published last week which found that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, Twitter/X had seen a 919 percent increase in antisemitic material since the October 7 attack. Meta’s Facebook had seen a 28 percent jump in the same period.

The Iranian government, which supports and sponsors Hamas and has used the situation in Gaza as an opportunity to antagonize Israel and Western powers, seems to be playing its part in propagating antisemitic hate speech to stoke the conflict. IranWire has reported in the past on Iran’s “cyber army” of regime cheerleaders, hackers, and trolls, the latter of whom spew ceaseless quantities of disinformation and hate speech on social media platforms.

Several of the posts IranWire recorded were the direct work of Islamic Republic officials such as Mohsen Rezaei, reported above, as well as the Masaf Institute, a government body that spreads propaganda and hate speech under the supervision of Ali Akbar Raefipour. Raefipour has been described by the Middle East Institute as an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist” – this month he posted a video taken out of context that was designed to accuse the Azerbaijan and Türkiye presidents of sending fuel and food to Israel to support it in the current conflict.

The combined antisemitic and anti-Baha'i posts IranWire recorded this week were also monitored earlier in the month.

Two Iranian news outlets—Fars News, and the Young Journalists Club—with a reach of more than 1.2 million people were found this week to be propagating an antisemitic and anti-Baha'i conspiracy theory claiming that Baha'is helped to establish the state of Israel and now acted as its "espionage" arm across the Middle East. Baha'is were also attacked for "provoking the superpowers to pass [UN] resolutions" against the country."

A separate social media post meanwhile claimed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (who is aligned against Palestinian Hamas, which the Islamic Republic supports) was descended from historical Baha'i central figures. A Baha'i report of several years ago, Inciting Hatred: A Case Study in Religious Hatred, documented the decades of overlapping and often contradictory forms of disinformation and hate speech that the Iranian government has spent 44 years propagating against the Baha'i community.

The claim is a longstanding motif used by the Islamic Republic in its efforts to tar the Baha'i community.

A separate piece of social media hate speech also tried to "unite" Shia and Sunni Muslims against the Israeli "bastard regime" and "blood enemy" of Iran by showcasing the visit of a member of Hamas, Khalid Qadoumi, to the Shia shrine of Hazrat Masumeh in the Iranian religious city of Qom. More than 20 posts across the week used the slur "bastard" to refer to "Zionists" and Jews.

Other posts targeted prominent Sunni Iranians, for example the leading Sunni cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, who was labeled a "traitor" and a "bastard" after he rebuked the Iranian government for its human rights violations. The attacks against Abdolhamid were posted by social media accounts with almost 40,000 followers.

Not all hate speech by Iranian social media influencers was linked to the government. Five posts tracked in the past week recorded anti-Muslim posts. A social media account with more than 10,000 followers, seemingly linked to an extremist Christian, produced one of the most violent examples of hate speech during the week when it posted the "hope" that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu would "turn [Gaza] into a parking lot" and then called for a genocide against Palestinians.



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