It’s All About Perspective: Iranian President Acknowledges Holocaust

In 2005, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that the Holocaust was a myth perpetrated by Israel and its supporters. Met with international outrage and ridicule, his denial was insight for many of how Iran – and the many in the Arab world – viewed this horrifying event in human history. This set the tone for the conservative president’s term. At the time of the statement, he had only been in office a few months. For the next eight years, he would continue to direct his inflammatory rhetoric at various targets, making him a source of hostility within his own country and internationally.

His successor, Hassan Rouhani, has taken a decidedly different tact. Since beginning his term in August of this year, President Rouhani has been on a “charm-offensive,” taking a more conciliatory tone on things such as nuclear weapons and Iran’s relationship with the United States; the latter has resulted in a phone call with President Barack Obama. This was the first such call between the two countries’ presidents in more than 30 years. He even tweeted about it.

Shortly after his speech at the United Nations, Rouhani sat down for an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. In the interview, he acknowledged “Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and condemnable.”

In other words, the Holocaust happened.

His acknowledgement was met with surprise and skepticism, considering just a few days earlier, Rouhani was unwilling to make such a statement. Abraham Foxman, The Anti-Defamation League National Director, said in a written statement, “It is about time an Iranian leader acknowledged the Holocaust as a tragic fact of history.”

In his article, Views of the Holocaust in Arab Media and Public Discourse (Yale Journal, Winter/Spring 2006), Stephen Wicken identifies two schools of thought regarding the Holocaust. The first is denial, as exhibited by Ahmadinejad, which can range from declaring it an outright myth to claiming that there is no way that six million Jews could have been killed. This perspective has been further exploited by some deniers to make outrageous claims like concentration camps were “refugee camps” and that the gas chambers were simply used to purify clothing and tools that contained lice and other disease spreading organisms.

Wicken explains that the “denial and diminution” of the Holocaust is rooted in “vicious anti-Semitism,” as well as a perceived Israeli human rights abuses during wars with Arab states. He points out that while there was outrage over Ahmadinejad’s statement, little notice was taken of his justification saying “that if the Holocaust was a crime committed by Europeans against other Europeans, the Palestinian nation should not be the one to pay the price.”

President Rouhani’s statement falls in line with the second school of thought in which intellectuals, journalists and politicians in the Arab region aim for a greater mutual understanding of the pain of the Holocaust, as well as of the Palestinian people.

As Wicken says, it’s about perspective:

“For Israeli Jews, 1948 was the year of homecoming. It was the year of deliverance from the evil of the Nazi Holocaust, the extermination of six million Jews, alongside millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, and many others. For Palestinian Arabs, however, 1948 was the year of the nakba (catastrophe), when, according to Edward Said, ‘750,000 of us who were living there — two-thirds of the population — were driven out, our property taken, hundreds of villages destroyed, an entire society obliterated.’”

Rouhani’s statement acknowledges the pain and the horror of the Holocaust. Empathy for one’s enemy is a necessary step towards reconciliation. There is little doubt that the denying and otherwise minimizing of the tragedy of the Holocaust makes it easier to see Israel as a heartless aggressor and, therefore, find them deserving of retaliation. “Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn,” Rouhani told CNN. “The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference if that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim. For us it is the same.”

Rouhani’s call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was met with resistance by the ADL.  In response to his statement that such a tragedy did not justify Israel to “usurp the land of another and occupy it,” they pointed out that “President Rouhani engaged in the more subtle form of Holocaust revisionism, minimizing it by accusing the Jewish survivors of taking vengeance on the Palestinians in fulfilling their 2,000-year-old dream of returning to their homeland, Israel.”

Whether Rouhani’s acknowledgement is political maneuvering or based in personal belief is unknown. He admits he is not a historian, perhaps as a way of giving a wink and a nudge to the deniers. Nevertheless, nuance has never been characteristic of Iran or in any discussions which involve the Middle East. An attempt to approach the conversation with understanding can help thaw the ice and lead to something that resembles forward movement.

As the late scholar Edward Said wrote in The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After of each side’s experience, “Neither is equal to the other; similarly, neither one nor the other excuses present violence; and finally, neither one nor the other must be minimized. There is suffering and injustice enough for everyone.”

It’s all about perspective.

Photo credit: Mojtaba Salimi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

What happened? Did he go to one of the death camps? When I was at Dachau in the early 70's you could still smell the gas! It was a shameful time in world history!

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Portland – It never ceases to amaze me how easy wild accusations and inaccuracies are thrown around in discussions like the ones you make without providing a shred of evidence. I guess you operate with the “good old tactic” … something will stick.

I don’t quite understand who you mean with the “caliph”? The Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171) was the last of the true caliphate. There were subsequent ones (with differences and derivations from the proper meaning and set-up); the very last one being the Ottoman Empire which was destroyed during WWI and constitutionally abolished in March 1924. This was the time when Hitler was in prison for his failed coup d’état in 1923. The NSDAP was founded in 1920 and had no big political power. Hitler was democratically elected in 1933. So which “caliph” are you talking about?!

If you talk about the Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini – he was twice in Germany hoping that Hitler might help the Arabs to gain their independence as stipulated in the promise by the Brits in 1915. To no avail.

But what is a documented fact to which I provide you with a link is that the Zionists offered Hitler to participate in the war. See for further details David Yisraeli, The Palestine Problem in German Politics, 1889-1945, (Phd.), Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, 1974.


Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

“Grundzuege des Vorschlages der Nationalen Militaerischen Organisaton in Palaestina (Irgun Zewai Leumi) betreffend der Loesung der juedischen Frage Europas und der aktiven Teilnahme der N.M.O. am Kriege an der Seite Deutschlands (1941) – the original of which is available at the “Staatsarchiv Berlin” (State’s archive Berlin, Germany). The title translates to “Fundamental Features of the Proposal of the National Military Organization in Palestine (Irgun Zvai Leumi) Concerning the Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe and the Participation of the NMO in the War on the Side of Germany”

Exerpt from the proposal:
“The NMO, which is well-acquainted with the goodwill of the German Reich government and its authorities towards Zionist activity inside Germany and towards Zionist emigration plans, is of the opinion that:
1. Common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO.
2. Cooperation between the new Germany and a renewed folkish-national Hebraium would be possible and,
3. The establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

(cont from excerpt) “Proceeding from these considerations, the NMO in Palestine, under the condition the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Israeli freedom movement are recognized on the side of the German Reich, offers to actively lake part in the war on Germany’s side.”

Taking into consideration that it was widely known what was going on in the concentration camps this is quite an eye-opener, wouldn’t you say?

Looking forward to you providing some substance regarding your accusations but especially this line “… and as well as wondered and ASKED if there was a way to speed up the extermination process so that it could kill more Jews in far less time.”

In your zest to show … I don’t want to put words in your mouth … you totally overlook the fact that at that time the Arabs had no bone to pick with the Jews. Therefore they had no interest in the extermination of anyone; btw this is a fact acknowledged and confirmed by historians. This only became a true issue AFTER the Zionists expelled Hundreds of Thousands of Palestinians BEFORE the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1947; see also Plan Dalet which was implemented after the partition plan and until the establishment of Israel. In this time (Nov. 47 to May 48) the Zionists grabbed additional 22% of the land which was allotted to the Palestinians. And so on and so forth.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Brian F. - you say: "It's a shame that a large country like Russia, can't give a little land for the nation of Israel to exist."

Leaving aside the fact that after the Arabs were promised in 1915 their independence and the formation of sovereign states in return for helping to overthrow the Ottoman Empire ... they got cheated with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (which btw contains a clear statement " being clearly understood that NOTHING shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..." Emphasis added) ... why is it that nobody even entertained the idea of Germany giving up a piece of land as a reparation to the damages done to the Jewish community? As an example Bavaria which is a beautiful and prosperous place?

And while at it also for the Roma community - after all they killed some 1,5 Mio of them which til today goes widely unacknowledged and nobody cares for?

It used to be that reparation is to be paid by the one causing the damage and not by a third party.

Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler4 years ago

Between this guy and the new pope, we are witnessing a sea change in public relations. By acknowledging an event known to the rest of us as fact (or, in the case of the pope, that gay people and atheists really exist), they're getting pets on the head, as if this washes away everything their compatriots/predecessors ever said or --more importantly-- ever did. To quote from fiction, I believe the judao-christian bible referred to these people as "whitewashed tombs." Their jump to show the world how "with it" they are makes me trust them all the less.

Karen C.
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Thank--you for this article, very interesting. Question:--- Rouse or an attempt at establishing "common ground" ???? The future actions will answer this question.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y4 years ago

It's a great start. Don't forget Iran is a theocratic dictatorship, and Rouhani is NOT in charge. The Mullahs like Katahmi run the show, and he has to be careful what he says.

ANY moderation on his part is a good deal. They are letting him be moderate because the Iranian people voted with their feet and their blood ini the last election to take this tack. At least that is a sign of hope, that the Mullahs are not completely crazy, that they are willing to listen to their own people. As for Rouhani, he has always been a moderate. Give him a chance.

Berny p.
Berny p4 years ago