In a year of calendar coincidences, the last days of April 2022 posed an especially a tricky one. While Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on April 27-28, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the only state in the world to deny the Holocaust as a matter of policy, celebrates its annual anti-Israel Quds Day on April 29.
This year, in a bid to welcome the latter event a day early, the ultraconservative daily Kayhan ran a range of related content in its April 28 issue. The centerpiece? Open praise for Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany and instigator of the genocide of six million Jews.
Kayhan is unsurprisingly a favorite of the Iranian regime establishment and is edited by Hossein Shariatmadari: an appointee of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a career Holocaust denier (we’ve covered some of his wilder claims on this theme before.) The newspaper, too, has a long history of praising Holocaust deniers, including those with Nazi sympathies. But it has gone a step further by allowing a writer to openly praise Hitler.
The piece in question was signed Mohammad Hadi Sahraei, who was identified in news coverage in February this year as head of the Kermanshah Basij Media Organization, an auxiliary section of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a powerful militia in control of much of political and economic power in Iran. In his “guest editorial”, entitled “Maybe Without war”, this regime insider and Kayhan spewed a quite remarkable amount of hatred and fantasy aimed at the Jewish people and Israel, culminating with the commentary on the World War II.
“With expelling these people from Germany,” Sahraei declared, “Hitler showed he is smarter than all the current leaders of Europe and he is braver in expressing himself. Hitler threw them out, and now the European countries have to pay for it, while confirming the myth of the Holocaust to find an excuse for their own cowardice and misery. If they considered Jews among of themselves, they’d give them refuge, just like they do blue-eyed Ukrainian immigrants.”
Given this open praise for Hitler, denial of the Holocaust and the amount of hate toward the Jewish people it featured, you might be surprised to discover that the article’s author claimed not to be targeting Jews. “Of course, Jews, and especially the Iranian Jews who are our compatriots, should be separated from this extremist and totalitarian idea,” the article says.
Here we can observe some of the ways in which the Iranian regime-controlled media outlets hook their supposedly “anti-Zionist” hatred of Israel to outright antisemitism. While some openly attack “Jews,” more opt to deceitfully use the word “Zionist” for their attacks while effectively using it to mean “most Jewish people around the world”.
This is achieved through a combination of historical and religious devices. They might use some Islamic arguments, purporting that the Bible used by Jews and Christians is a distorted version of the original books of God. At other times, they might espouse the discredited Khazar hypothesis of Ashkenazi ancestry (a favorite of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) to claim that the “real Jews”, revered as People of the Book in Islamic tradition, are not the Jewish people of the world today. This, however, is a less than consistent tactic as many articles openly attack “Jews,” named as such – in fact, another article, mentioned below, did so in the very same issue of Kayhan.
Whenever Iranian state media attacks “Zionists,” in fact, it tends to really be attacking the core of Jewish identity. In fact, Kayhan’s latest antisemitic tirade began with an attack on the Israelites of the ancient world.
Sahraei's article waxed on a well-known Biblical episode, also recounted in the Quran, about how the Israelites, as they were waiting for Moses on Mount Sinai to come back from his tryst with the Almighty, made an idol in the shape of a golden calf. This encounter is known in the Jewish tradition as ‘Chet HaEgel’ or Sin of the Calf. In the Quranic tradition, the same story is told except that instead of it being Moses’s brother, Aaron, who builds the heretical calf, the job is done by a figure named Samiri. “To follow the Samiri calf” remains an idiom in many Muslim countries for a foolish act of idolizing something unworthy.
The story of the Israelites, too, is sometimes recounted with prejudice in Iranian folkloric tradition. For instance, Israelites are criticized for having been too stubborn with Moses as he led them on the exodus. Based on this premise, the article’s author described the Jews as “a people known for their stubbornness… who consider themselves the chosen people, spread corruption on earth, whose scholars are known for distortion, usury, illicit gain, killing of the prophets, and murder”.
He even went on to claim Jews were the ones who organized the murder of Shia Imams. “Due to their infectious thinking, these are the most pestilent and harmful species for humankind,” the article goes on to say, using a chilling level of dehumanization paralleled only by Nazi propaganda.
As with many antisemitic screeds, the article riffed on a bewildering number of conspiracy theories. Nothing was of surprise here. “Think tanks” funded by the regime have previously claimed that Jews are responsible for rock and jazz music, Hollywood and modern psychology, and the Kayhan article considers Jews to be responsible for theories of Charles Darwin (who wasn’t Jewish), purposefully creating schisms in religions to divide the pious. The Jews, apparently, thus “created” the Wahhabi split in Sunni Islam, the Baha’i faith to divide the Shias, Protestantism to distort Christianity and “the brutal Muslim-burning cult in Myanmar” to split the Buddhists.
Also couching itself more traditional Iranian conspiracy theories, the article claims that the root of “all these extremisms” lies with the Queen of England but “the Zionist idea” should, at the same time, be traced back to the very beginning of humanity: Cain, the son of Adam.
“One shouldn’t forget the extraordinary ability of the Zionist idea which goes back to the time of Cain,” the article says. “has been satanically developed through time, mixed with Egyptian magic and contempt, riches of the tycoons and the art of Samiris.”
Another article in the same issue of Kayhan, entitled “Israel’s Roots in Crusader-Zionist History of the West,” also started with the figure of Samiri, which it said “presaged the government of Jewish elites… as Samirites used their racist and gold-loving ideology to conquer the earth.” Elsewhere, it also claimed that John Milton, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all “openly wished to create the Greater Israel.”
That article also gave pride of place to the Puritans, the English protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries, who had a foundational role in the United States of America. This “cult”, the article claims, “combined the New Testament with the teachings of Jewish elites and evils… They went to America not to find a new place for life and their own happiness,” the article says. “But, according to their own statements, the migrant Puritans joined Jewish elites to found the New Israel or New Jerusalem.”
It will come as little surprise that the same article also claims the Jews were responsible for the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian revolution of 1917, and the two World Wars. Hateful tirades like this are often found in darker corners of the internet, sometimes resulting in terrorist attacks. But here they are espoused by a powerful government with significant military capabilities, via supposedly professional journalists at a national newspaper.
The “guest editorial” leaves no doubt as to its intentions. It ends with a threat to Israel and bragging about a largely imaginary “massive anti-imperialist front”. “It is no longer stone-throwing time,” the article goes on to say. “Palestine now owns precision missiles; Syria boasts a sovereign government that has learnt the Iranian game; Lebanon makes a mockery out of the Iron Dome… While Iran waits, so that maybe it can enter Jerusalem without war.”
The Iranian regime’s sick conspiracies about history are thus matched with sick fantasies for future. Such hatred has little to do with the Iranian people who, by and large, don’t support the government and long for a day when Iran can live in peace with its neighbors, whether Arab or Israeli. On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, many will recall their compatriot Abdolhossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat who helped rescue Jews during the Second World War. Working with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, IranWire has started a project named after Sardari to strengthen Holocaust education for Iranian audiences. The hateful propaganda of Kayhan shows the need for initiatives like this ever more.