Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has many distinctive characteristics that ensure he stands out. He is the third-longest ruling leader in the world. He is one of the very few who claim a mantle of divine sovereignty. He is unique in asking for 300,000 of his own citizens, the Baha’is of Iran, to be socially isolated by the Muslim majority. This week, he added to these accolades. After publishing a poster that calls for a “Final Solution” for Israeli Jews, he is now a rare leader who, in 2020, uses the phraseology of the most widely-despised political figure of the modern world, Adolf Hitler.
The poster, published by Khamenei’s very own office, aims to commemorate the Quds Day, a tradition started by the founding leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomieni, in 1979. Using the Arabic name for the holy city of Jerusalem, the day aims to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, although Khomeini was adamant that this was “not just a day for Palestine, but a day for Islam, a day for Islamic government.”
The 2020 poster is headlined “Palestine Will Be Free.” In a cartoonish style reminiscent of the Where’s Waldo series, it shows a group of people who have apparently conquered the courtyard of Jerusalem’s Masjid al-Aqsa. The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background. The holy mosque is emblazoned with a picture of Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force who was assassinated by the Americans in January. But the most significant feature of the poster is its unmistakable subtitle: “The final solution: resistance until referendum.”
World’s Chief Holocaust Denier?
It is not the first time that Khamenei has shown his penchant for antisemitism. In addition to the above defining idiosyncrasies, he is also probably the only head of state who openly and officially denies the Holocaust, the extermination of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Countries around the world, from Brazil to Japan, have implemented Holocaust education into their national curricula.
Holocaust denial is now limited to groups of crackpot writers and far-right figures who are nowhere near the mainstream. There are exceptions, like Mahathir Mohammad, the previous prime minister of Malaysia who self-identified as an antisemite. But Khamenei is on a different level — not only does he deny the Holocaust but he does so repeatedly. It was with his support that, in December 2006, Iran’s previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited a motley of Holocaust deniers from around the world to Tehran for an “international conference” that was widely seen as a forum for Holocaust denial.
His use of the Nazi phrase the “Final Solution” takes him from denying the Holocaust to openly advocating it. The term was at the core of the Holocaust’s basic idea: all Jews everywhere had to be killed. The Nazis had long held genocidal intentions toward Jews but they had offered different “solutions” for what they called the “Jewish Question.” Concentrating all Jews in a part of Poland or deporting them all to the African island of Madagascar had been discussed. But in January 1942, at a conference organized in Wannsee, a southwestern suburb of Berlin, the Nazi leadership made a firm decision: All Jews had to be killed. This they called “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” or for short, “the Final Solution” — “Endlösung” to use the German term. It wasn’t just a dream but a policy the Nazis tried hard to implement. Before their downfall three and a half years later, the Nazis killed close to 80 percent of the Jewish population of Europe. Thus the phrase “the Final Solution” was etched into history as gruesome declaration of genocidal intent. Khamenei might be the first leader in 75 years who proudly associates himself with it.
Whose “Free” Palestine?
In addition to the infamous “Final Solution” subtitle, other features of the poster betray Iran’s attitude to Palestine. There is no flag of Iran, but there are flags of Iran’s Shia partners in the region, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. There are large pictures of Khamenei and Khomeini, plus those of Hezbollah figures Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Muqniya, but hardly any images of Palestinian national figures. There is a small picture of Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian Imam and the founding figure of Islamist Hamas, assassinated by Israel in 2004. There are only three women in the picture, all wearing the Islamic hijab, and one holding a baby. This is thus the “free” Palestine imagined by Khamenei: inspired by Adolf Hitler, for men only, where icons of the Islamic regime of Tehran loom large without any sign of the rich repertoire of Palestinian national life.