Iran: Islamist holocaust denial

16 April 2012

This study examines both Iranian politicians’ Holocaust denial and antisemitic propaganda as well as antisemitic arguments made by state financed ideological institutions. It is demonstrated that Holocaust denial is only a prelude to propagating the totalitarian ideology of Israel’s destruction. The primary utopian goal of the Islamist ideology remains the Re-Islamisation of the Islamic world with the long-term goal of the Islamisation of the whole world. The thesis put forward is that the Iranian version of Holocaust denial represents an exogenous form of antisemitism, since it is imported and influenced by revisionist Holocaust deniers. At the same time, the Iranian regime exports its virulent form of antisemitism through its polyglot state media.



Antisemitism and Holocaust denial 'made in Iran' have been the topic of considerable public attention, largely because of Iran’s “A World without Zionism” conference in October, 2005 and the Holocaust “Review” Conference in Tehran, 11-12 December 2006. Ahmadinejad’s statements in Teheran at Sharif University of Technology on 27 January 2009,[2] calling for the destruction of the UN State of Israel, has further catapulted modern antisemitism into public discourse. Moreover, an academic and political discussion has emerged about the status of Holocaust denial and antisemitism in the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Western countries many still argue that Iranians' statements on the Holocaust, 'Zionism' and 'the West' were a result of Israel's policy towards the Palestinians. (Amirpur 2009; Amirpur 2008)

The threat to Israel’s existence – by Iran – especially by Iran’s nuclear arms program and Iranians' terrorist proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah – has been downplayed and the character of Iran’s ideology and state politics often negated.

This article focuses on Holocaust denial and antisemitic propaganda by Iranian politicians and on antisemitic arguments made by state financed ideological institutions. Knowing their arguments can help to understand how antisemitism is deeply rooted in Iranians' state ideology and politics. It will show that Holocaust denial is only a prelude to denying the UN State Israel’s right to exist, to propagate the ideology of its destruction with the further main aim of re-Islamising the Islamic World and lastly with the utopian goal of Islamisation of the wider world.

As a first step this article contextualises antisemitism in the expansionist Islamist state ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Iranian version of Holocaust denial is an exogenous form of antisemitism. This means that it is an imported form of antisemitism in contrast to endogenous elements going back to the 19th century. (Tsadik 2007) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders adopted the relativisation and denial of Holocaust from some revisionists like Roger Garaudy. Holocaust denial “made in Iran” uses revisionist discourses and is added to and mixed with Islamist anti-Zionist antisemitism. In a second step, I will pick up several examples from the last five years to demonstrate how Holocaust denial, Islamic expansionism and the goal of the destruction of the State of Israel are closely related. Furthermore, I will give some examples from the German language Iranian state news agency IRIB to exemplify how Iran's ideological propaganda is being translated towards the West. Finally, I will conclude with some considerations on the connections between Holocaust denial, Iran’s fight for the destruction of the State of Israel and its general Islamist agenda.

Iran and Antisemitism since the Islamic Revolution 1979

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 the Iranian regime, under the guidance of the religious Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, installed a totalitarian order with Islamist antisemitism as an integral part of its state ideology. The regime has been compounded by several leading elements under the absolute power of the religious clergy: Islamist ideology, leader principle, institutions promoting totalitarian policies, mass movement and mobilisation, no-party political system, discrimination of women, dismantlement of the independent labour movements and trade unions, anti-Bahaism and antisemitism in its most aggressive form as eliminatory anti-Zionism. (Wahdat-Hagh 2012; Wahdat-Hagh 2008a; Wahdat-Hagh 2008b)

Ayatollah Khomeini legitimised the power of the clergy in his interpretation of revolutionary Islam with a mythology of Shi’a Messianism as state ideology. According to this vision, the Supreme Leader shall rule as the successor of the Twelfth/Hidden Imam, until he reappears. Today, when Ahmadinejad speaks about the return of the Twelfth Imam, he refers to Khomeini’s concept of the absolute rule of the leader. In this vision, the state is responsible to prepare for the return of the Twelfth Imam. The revolutionary leader is seen as God's representative on earth and has absolute power. (Wahdat-Hagh 2003)

God, leader and Islamic nation are the key concepts of Khomeini’s Islamist ideology. Sovereignty of the people is not foreseen in this concept. Instead, the “Ummat” (“nation of God”) is subjected to full obedience to God and his representative personified in the Supreme Leader. Khomeini stressed that clerical rule needs not just the support but also the admiration of the people.

Those, uneducated in Islamic law, have to receive “Irshad” (“right guidance”) to be a role model for Muslims in the world.

In local policy, Khomeini’s and the Islamic Republic’s overall goal is the Islamisation of the totality of Iranian society: in prisons by torture and capital punishment; in society by force of special military personnel; in institutions, including ministries, the army, universities and schools through special representatives; and in publications and the mass media by strict control through the responsible ministry. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij help to secure the military power of the Leader. The concept is simple: in Iran “democracy” is defined as the totalitarian and utopian unity of God, Leader and the entire population as an Islamic nation.

Prior to Khomeini’s rise, Iranian fundamentalists were under the influence of the Fadaiyan-e Islam movement. Their terrorist acts served as a role model for the Islamist revolutionaries of 1979. The Fadaiyan remained in communication and collaboration with the Egyptian Islamist and antisemitic leader Sayyid Qutb. In 1948, Navab Safavi and Ayatollah Kashani, leading figures of the Fadaiyan, already organised anti-Jewish demonstrations in Tehran. This terrorist organisation is until today a role model for the ideologues of “Islamic Republic of Iran”. First major antisemitic writings of later Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini can be dated back to the early 1960s. In 1964 he wrote in his book “Sahifeh-e Nour“ (”Book of light”), “I ask the Islamic governments why they are arguing about oil? Palestine has fallen into disfavour. Throw the Jews out of Palestine. You are useless.” Khomeini also accused those who were not aggressive enough in their opposition to Israel of being “in an alliance with the Jews and the Shah.”[3] (Khomeini 1964)

After the Iranian revolution 1979 antisemitism and eliminatory anti-Zionism became an integral part of Iranian state ideology and practice and have been distributed through all its institutions. The regime defines itself ideologically as the defender of Islamic liberation not only of the Islamic world but of the whole world. The Iranian revolution shall provide a basis for the continuation of other Islamic movements. In the Iranian constitution this claim is also stressed: “It [Islamic Republic of Iran] particularly tries to do this in developing international

relations with other Islamic movements and peoples, so as to prepare the way towards a united single world community.”[4]

In the broader Islamist world view Israel is seen as an alien entity and as barrier for the success of international Islamist movements. From this perspective Jews are only allowed to live in the territory of former Palestine as a subservient subject under Islamic rule and not as a citizen of a Jewish state. The calls for the complete destruction of the Jewish state has been coupled since the beginning with the use of traditional religious and political antisemitic stereotypes and – especially in the last years – with Holocaust denial.

Holocaust Denial: Revisionists and Exogenous Antisemitism

Holocaust denial has become a major focus of the regime’s policy over the last decade. In contrast to endogenous elements of antisemitism it has been directly imported from European revisionists. While endogenous elements can be dated back to the 19th century and are based on Islamic antisemitic perceptions of modern social changes and conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial is an exogenous form of contemporary antisemitism in Iran. The works of European revisionists like Roger Garaudy and Robert Faurisson, including interviews about the denial of the Shoah have been circulated to Iranian audiences and readers. For over two decades, the Iranian media have – in positive terms – reported on the aforementioned deniers of the Holocaust. The Iranian media began with the propaganda of Holocaust denial more than one decade before Ahmadinejad was ”elected“. Ahmadinejad reinforced as president the strategy of the state controlled media.

Many Iranian key figures have denied or played down the Shoah. So did for example Iranian revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei, when he spoke about the Holocaust as a ”fable“. (Parto Sokhan 2007) Another example is Mohammad Ali Ramin, one of the most famous Iranian antisemites and an adviser to Ahmadinejad. He lived in Germany from 1977 to 1994 where he was very active in Islamic student organisations before he began his career in Iran as adviser to Ahmadinejad. From November 2009 to December 2010 he worked as secretary in the Ministry for Islamic Guidance and Culture. Already in 2005 he organised the conference “A World Without Zionism” in Tehran. Ramin declared in 2006 that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz and disputed the figures for victims, referring to European revisionist historians such as Garaudy and Faurisson. (Baztab 2006)

Holocaust denial and the denial of Israel’s right to exist can only be understood in the context of Irans’ wider strategy of re-Islamisation. Iranian Islamists argue that Palestine must be Islamised and that the Jews have no right to build their own state there. For them the Palestinians are victims only. Since the Islamists’ primary goal is the re-Islamisation of the Islamic world they deny the benefits of any democratisation in the sense of Western democratic systems. Israel is seen as an alien non-Islamic entity and the spearhead of Western democracies. In the eyes of Khomeinist ideologues Israel must therefore be destroyed. ‘Zionism’ and ‘the West’ are declared as the reasons for and causes of all problems in the Middle East. Islam alone is seen as the key for any solution in the world. In this context, the Holocaust is perceived as an invented strategy to legitimise the ‘Zionist entity’. Iranian President Ahmadinejad claims for example that today’s problems are not the same as those which existed at the time of the Second World War. Ahmadinejad downplays the historical fact of the Shoah and the crimes of German National Socialism to argue that, today, Islamic Palestine is the main issue. According to this logic the Iranian state doctrine denies the right of existence of Israel by downplaying the Shoah and at the same time by supporting Islamist organisations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

This policy also affects Europe. Ahmadinejad targets the “denial of guilt” which exists in Europe. He calls, particularly on Western governments, not to harbour feelings of guilt over Europe’s history of antisemitism and Nazism/fascism. (F.A.Z. 2006b) According to him, Europe should focus on today’s problems.

Whilst the Nazi crimes against Jews are presented as exaggerated and are thereby downplayed, Israeli Jews are, at the same time, accused of perpetrating genocide against the Palestinians.

This chain of arguments is the Islamist form of secondary genocidal antisemitism – relativising the Holocaust and questioning Israel’s right to exist.

The argumentation is the following: Zionists founded the myth of the Holocaust to have a reason to colonise Palestine and found the State of Israel. Israel has no legitimacy to exist and must be destroyed to pave the way for the Islamisation of the Islamic world.

In an essay published by the Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre in 2009, Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying that he had already focused on the Holocaust in the early days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.[5] Ahmadinejad declared that by 1981 he was already a revolutionary student activist in a group of Islamist activists which dealt at the time with Palestine and the Holocaust. In this context Ahmadinejad stated: “At the time, I came to the conclusion that the starting point for founding this regime [Israel] was based on lies.” (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 159)

The same institution refers to statements which Ahmadinejad made in December 2005 at a conference of Islamic governments in Mecca. In his speech Ahmadinejad insisted on founding an “Institute for historical review,” in order, he claimed, to look at Europe’s history in an “objective manner”. (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 161) Ahmadinejad literally said in the mentioned conference that he wants “to decipher the blackbox of Second World War history.” (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 166)

Ahmadinejad is convinced that Europeans did not really research the history of National Socialism and the Second World War. He calls for a new independent research of European history, with the help of the revisionists. Ahmadinejad’s logic is simple: The European historians allegedly exaggerate and deliver a wrong picture of National Socialism under the pressure of ‘Zionists’. At the same time, he thinks that the European historians underestimate the sufferings of the Palestinians, again under the pressure of ‘Zionists’. He says that Israel and the West are trying to prevent the foundation of new fundamentalist Islamist states in the Middle East. In this ideological orbit and absurd trajectory of arguments, Ahmadinejad predicts: “The Zionist regime will fall apart.” (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 236)

Ahmadinejad demonises Israel to legitimise the assertion that Israel must be destroyed. For him Israel is a symbol of evil. In religious metaphors he states that the “flag of the Zionist regime is also the flag of the devil.” (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 238) For Iranian Islamists the USA is the “big devil” and Israel the “small devil”. No surprise that their fight against Zionism is inseparable from the fight against the United States and the West. Ahmadinejad asked “Is a world without America conceivable? Can there be a world without Zionism? They know very well that these statements represent an achievable goal and can certainly be realised.” (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 238)

Above all, it is a sign of religious fanaticism that Iranian Islamists believe that only a fundamentalist approach against the decay of Western democracies and Israel is the only path following God’s word. In fact, for Ahmadinejad, Israel’s downfall has a strong religious dimension. For him it constitutes a “divine promise”. (The Presidency’s Research and Documentation Centre 2009, 239)

It is not Ahmadinejad alone who argues along antisemitic lines. To show how Iranian state institutions deal with the Holocaust the Political Studies and Research Institute (PSRI) can be taken as an example. PSRI is one of the most important scientific institutions in Iran in the field of research and currently produces hate propaganda and conspiracy theories about the history of 'colonialism', 'National Socialism', and the 'Bahai-religion'. Among the activities of this Islamist “think tank” are publications and seminar series on issues like colonialism, European history, Iranian history and politics.

In fall 2006, PSRI published the “Special Report about Holocaust”. The survey suggests that the term “historical revisionism” should be changed into “the school of historical truth”. The report assumes that the Jews were restricted in their rights during National Socialism because “they have spied on Germany” and were supporting Germany’s enemies. (PSRI 2006, 34) The Jews were a “potential threat” to German military activities, just as for the Americans, the enemies were Germans, Italians and Japanese. Therefore, the Jews did not have the same rights as Germans and were “forced to live in ghettos.” But, the report stresses that, “this was never based on a plan to commit mass murder against Jews”. The report claims that genocide against the Jews was only a result and consequence of war, because the Jews had betrayed German interests.

PSRI also hold several seminars on issues like colonialism and Iranian history. To exemplify the level of argumentation and the basis of the discussions in Iranian state institutions some statements at a “research seminar” in Teheran in autumn 2006 about the Holocaust will be quoted. At this seminar, questions were asked on why Germany was paying Israel reparations if the Holocaust was indeed a lie. Asisi asked, “Why do German politicians accept the payment of such reparations?” (PSRI 2006, 13–14) Taqipur, another participant, put forward a global-Islamist argument. He said that it was a mistake to “treat the Holocaust as an event which was confined to a limited geographic area.” Then he added, “The Holocaust is an event that is based on the propaganda of the Jewish people and must therefore be dealt with within the framework of Jewish history. This is because demonstrating external humility is today one of the central tenets of Zionism.” (PSRI 2006, 15) He claimed that in reality, the Zionists were only able to spread their propaganda because they had become very wealthy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Furthermore, he said that the Zionists “encouraged those who lived in Western states, such as France, England and even Russia, to move to Palestine.” The “Palestinian occupation was a strategy implemented by the Zionist leaders,” he claimed. The Zionists themselves were those who forced the Jews to go to Palestine, so that the “humble Jews believed that they could not live safely anywhere on the planet.” (PSRI 2006, 15) Here, the argumentation of the Iranian Islamists is that the German Jews did not leave Germany by their free decision; Zionists allegedly forced them to occupy Palestine. In the Islamist totalitarian “discourse” a Jewish state in “Dar al-Islam” is forbidden and leads to war. According to their argumentation Jews have to live under an Islamic state.

If not, the superiority of Islam over other religions would be questioned. This is why Iranian Islamists argue that Zionists were themselves guilty for the antisemitic pogroms in Europe.

Even the Dreyfus-Affair and the pogroms in Russia were part of this antisemitic scene according to Taqipur. Without further justification, he claimed that Zionist actions led to the First World War and later to the Second World War which spawned “the myth of the Holocaust.” He suggests that European Jews intentionally “ghettoised” themselves in their history. Without the Holocaust, the Zionists could never have convinced the Jews to move to Palestine. Through this propaganda, he says, around 700,000 Jews have been convinced to settle in Palestine over the last 150 years. Such a conspiracy theory is once again an example of hate propaganda. The perverse logic of the new Islamic antisemitism is in its own words: Since Holocaust is a “myth” there is no need for the foundation of Israel in former Palestine. When Jews submit to Islamic rule in Palestine, all is well.

Iranian Propaganda: Influence on European Intellectuals

The question of whether Iranian propaganda influences European pro-Islamists has no easy answer. One example is the Iranian state agency IRIB. IRIB translates the Khomeinist propaganda in 24 different languages. In the following, I show some examples of the German edition of IRIB (IRIB Deutsches Programm). The same propaganda can be found in English, French, Bosnian, Albanian, Italian, Spanish and Russian. The German program regularly interviews German and Iranian-German academics and intellectuals to get recognition. The frequency of well-known interviewees shows the success of this strategy. Recent interviews were conducted with Dr. Jochen Hippler, Dr. Peter Schall-Latour, Dr. Irmgard Pinn, Dr. Sabine Schiffer, Dr. Andreas von Bülow and Dr. Udo Steinbach. However, IRIB, the official Iranian news agency, openly spreads antisemitism. Two examples might illustrate the point.

On 25 October 2010, IRIB published a German article under the title “Zionists contra History”.[6] Zionists are said to be responsible for the Hollywood film industry. The author of the article identifies “cultural strategies of Zionists” in certain films, which are not explicitly named. The anonymous author of this German language article wrote that “the Zionists deny and falsify historical truths”. European historians were lying. Only the revisionists have allegedly searched for the truth. Namely the British historian David Irving is accepted as telling the truth. Irving is viewed as “bring[ing] the hypocrisy of the Zionist allegations to light.” IRIB defends in the same article the Holocaust denier Irving and praises and commends his books "The memories of Goebbels" and "Hitler's War". Irving has “serious doubts” about the Holocaust, can be read on the IRIB website. IRIB criticises the fact that “the Zionists” are attacking the historian Irving, whose work it views as important. The author of the article also referred to the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy and complained that

Garaudy was brought to court. The Iranian news agency in German claims that Garaudy only wanted to demonstrate his “efforts to represent the historical facts”.

In another article, published on 12 April 2010, IRIB denied the Holocaust once more.[7] In this article, IRIB referred first of all to an AFP report to demonstrate objectivity by quoting Obama who speaks of “the obligation to prevent genocide and antisemitism” to honour the victims of the Holocaust. But IRIB reported on this by writing of the “Holocaust legend”. Again, IRIB referred to revisionists such as Roger Garaudy, David Irving and Günther Kögel, claiming, that the “representation of the murder of six million Jews during World War II does not reflect reality.”

These facts show that the Iranian regime tries to spread its antisemitic state ideology even in German. IRIB’s attempts to influence Muslim communities in Germany are, in fact, virulent.


Iranians “learn” reading such propaganda that Jews were guilty for their persecution during the Second World War. The Jewish state is portrayed as a "Zionist invention" that has to be denied... In this ideological discourse and Islamic-manichaean production of the “enemy” the Zionists are seen to have generated “lies” around the Holocaust. The Islamic policy of “Re-Islamisation” is antisemitic because it contains anti-Jewish elements, demonises Israel and calls for the Israeli state’s destruction.

The Islamist utopia is an Islamic world without Zionism, Israel and America, and a world without western democracy. It was Ayatollah Khomeini, whose ideology is still alive in the Iranian state doctrine, who denied the right of existence of Israel in the seventies. Today, it is not only Ahmadinejad but different state institutions and universities, as well as media which help to develop the totalitarian Khomeinist state ideology. Holocaust denial constitutes an ideological lie designed to produce aggressive antisemitism, that is to say anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist sentiments.

As Wistrich wrote: “Ahmadinejad’s Iran is a state with a totalitarian ideology, radically opposed to the Western democracies and inspired by hatred of the Jews.” (Wistrich 2010, 923) Crimes, committed by individuals or by ideological dictatorships, always begin with thoughts and words. Iran is presently the only state in the world which propagates genocidal antisemitism.

This article was originally published here.