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Friday, November 22, 2013

In Taunts From Iran’s Ruler, Some Israelis Hear Echoes of Nazism

As my colleague Michael Gordon reports, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that “inflammatory” statements against Israel and the United States this week from Iran’s ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could make reaching an agreement over the Iranian nuclear program more difficult.

“I think at this moment, when we are trying to negotiate and figure out what can and can’t be achieved,” Mr. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the last thing we need are names and back and forth.” The name-calling had come in Ayatollah Khamenei’s televised address to Basij militiamen in Tehran on Wednesday, when he referred to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as “the sinister mouth of the filthy, rabid dog of the region,” a phrase he has used before to describe Israel. Later in the speech, Iran’s ruler went further, saying, “the leaders of the Zionist regime are like wild anials; you cannot even call them human.”

As Mr. Kerry noted, what might otherwise have been dismissed as harmless name-calling is deeply distressing to some Israelis, in part because Iran’s leader has previously made “very disturbing assertions regarding the Holocaust,” going so far as to call it a “myth” in 2006.

Speaking to leaders of the Jewish community in Moscow on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu said, “This reminds us of the dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first and then against all of humanity.”

The Israeli prime minister, who has called Iran’s new president “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” used the ayatollah’s comments to bolster his argument that Iranian diplomatic overtures to the West, including an embrace of social networking, were just a ruse to conceal “the real Iran.”

The real Iran is what the leader of Iran, Khamenei, said yesterday. He called Jews ‘rabid dogs’ and said that they were not human. The public responded to him with calls of ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’ Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? This is the real Iran! We are not confused. They must not have nuclear weapons.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, made a more explicit connection between the Iranian cleric’s statements and the dehumanization of Jews in Nazi propaganda. “Whoever talks about the Jews using the terminology of Goebbels and Hitler,” he said, “certainly has no intention to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes.”

While there were slight variations in translations of the leader’s words into English by state news agencies and Persian-speaking analysts in Washington and Israel, the ayatollah’s office worked hard to draw attention to the message online, uploading a transcript and video of the full speech to his website, and posting parts of it on Instagram and Twitter. One tweet was illustrated with a photograph of an Israeli military dog biting a Palestinian woman; another linked to video of the 50,000 militiamen chanting “Death to America!” (A long portion o the address was devoted to aspects of American history the ayatollah finds troubling, including a description of slavery that cited Alex Haley’s “Roots” as a source, and a discussion of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)