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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.)

Colleagues Remember Journalist Missing for One Year in Syria

In a video uploaded to YouTube by a Syrian activist, James Foley described the “most shocking things” he saw during a June 2012 visit to Syria’s Idlib province, not far from where he would be kidnapped five months later.

A year has gone by since James Foley, an American freelance journalist working for GlobalPost, was kidnapped near the town of Taftanaz in chaotic and war-torn northern Syria as he drove toward the Turkish border at the end of a reporting trip. It happened during Thanksgiving festivities in the United States, and he has not been heard from since.

In a note published by GlobalPost, and shared online by a website and Twitter account devoted to securing Mr. Foley’s release, Phil Balboni, the president of GlobalPost, reflected on the yearlong search for the reporter and said he “remained very hopeful” that Mr. Foley was alive and would be granted his freedom.

As I write, it is still very hard to believe that an entire year has passed since Jim went missing. It’s been an agony for his family, especially his brave parents John and Diane Foley. For GlobalPost, it’s been a severe test of our endurance and our resources. Our investigation of Jim’s kidnapping has ranged across the Middle East and Europe. In order to preserve the security of our investigation, we’ve been unable to share much detailed information with the public or even with the GlobalPost family. But please know that our search for Jim has not slowed and that there are important leads being actively pursued even at this moment.

Before traveling to Syria, Mr. Foley covered the Libyan revolution. During that time, he was arrested by soldiers fighting for Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, during a firefight that killed one of his colleagues, the South African photographer Anton Hammerl.

In May 2011, Mr. Foley recorded a video interview with The Boston Globe about his arrest and six weeks in captivity. “You don’t want to be defined as that guy who got captured in 2011,” he said. “I believe that front-line journalism is important.”

James Foley spoke with The Boston Globe in May 2011 about his arrest and six weeks being held captive in Libya.

In a second video uploaded to YouTube in June 2012 by Syrian activists in Idlib province, not far from where he would eventually be kidnapped, Mr. Foley described the “most shocking things” he saw during his time in the province, which his interviewer said was about to come to an end. Mr. Foley said he had seen a number of civilians killed during government attacks, including a student and a fruit vendor trying to “evacuate the wounded” from a town being shelled.

At least 30 journalists are now missing in Syria and believed to have been kidnapped, the Committee to Protect Journalists said this month. The group also reported that 52 journalists have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, and 24 more have been kidnapped and released.

Many of the kidnappers appear to be Jihadist rebel groups, some affiliated with Al Qaeda, who are fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades.

David Rohde, a former New York Times correspondent kidnapped in Afghanistan along with two Afghan colleagues in 2008 and held for seven months, wrote this month that Syria is witnessing “an epidemic of journalist kidnappings” in a blog post for Reuters. He wrote:

The number is unprecedented. Syria today is the scene of the single largest wave of kidnappings in modern journalism, more than in Iraq during the 2000s or Lebanon during the 1980s. A combination of criminality, jihadism and chaos is bringing on-the-ground coverage of the war to a halt.

In one of several alarming new trends that has emerged in Syria, jihadists are abducting reporters, holding them captive and making no demands for their release. Instead of requesting prisoner exchanges or ransoms, they hold journalists indefinitely as human bargaining chips for future use.

Mr. Rohde said that four Americans were among the missing, including Mr. Foley and Austin Tice, a freelancer for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Post, who disappeared near Damascus in August 2012. The families of two other American journalists have asked that their names not be made public.