Turning over a new leaf in relations with Iran? Only if some major issues are glossed over – such as the Iranian regime’s Holocaust denial, which has persistently manifested itself even during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s European “shopping spree” this week.
Rouhani’s trip to Europe, where he met with Western leaders and clinched several deals with major firms, coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on January 27. While Italian officials were rushing that day to cover up naked statues lest their immodesty offend the Iranian president, back in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was busy cooking up a far less friendly gesture: updating the homepage of his official website to feature a video of a 2014 speech in which he questioned the “reality” of the Holocaust – again. In the video, titled “Are the Dark Ages Over?” and featuring photos of a saluting Hitler, Khamenei blasted European countries for arresting or suing Holocaust deniers, despite claiming to be “supporters of freedom.”
The contrast between Rouhani’s “grinning” demeanor in Europe and Khamenei’s highly controversial and hawkish message – not to mention his sinister definition of “freedom” – was so glaring that some major news outlets were quick to call Iran out on its hypocrisy. The Telegraph, for example, wryly noted that “while nations around the world remembered the millions of people who were killed in Auschwitz,” in Iran, the country’s “hardline leader questioned whether the Holocaust ‘is a reality or not.’” Newsweek, meanwhile, pointed out that Khamenei’s video was released on the same day that UNESCO challenged Rouhani about a “Holocaust cartoon competition, in which the winner would receive a $50,000 cash prize.” Over at Gulf News, Linda Heard asserted that “Persian gold” has “blinded” European leaders to Iran’s transgressions, to the point that they let slide the stark dissonance between the “right things” they are told by “seasoned diplomat” Rouhani, and Khamenei’s Holocaust denial and anti-Western outbursts.
Ultimately, as Michael Rubin pointed out in Commentary Magazine this week, Iran’s Holocaust denial isn’t just an extreme statement by some relatively minor hawkish leader (although in any case, Iran’s hardliners are only getting stronger), but a “constant pillar” of the Iranian establishment itself and a reflection of its true values and anti-Western sentiments.