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Iranian Jewish Leader Criticizes President For Holocaust Denial

By Golnaz Esfandiari

The head of Iran's Jewish community, Haroun Yashayaei, has sent a letter complaining to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad over his Holocaust denial comments. Yashayaei said the remarks have shocked the international community and struck fear within Iran's small Jewish community.

PRAGUE, 13 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In the letter, Iranian Jewish Society head Haroun Yashayaei describes the Holocaust as one of the most obvious and saddest events of the 20th century, saying: "How is it possible to ignore all the undeniable evidence existing for the killing and exile of the Jews in Europe during World War II?"

Yashayaei's letter marks the first time an Iranian Jewish leader has openly criticized President Ahmadinejad's denials that the Holocaust took place.

Denying The Holocaust

Ahmadinejad has on several occasions in recent months expressed doubt about the Holocaust of Jews under Nazi Germany, even calling it a "myth."

The latest denial came during his 11 February speech marking the 27th anniversary of the revolution, when he said: "We have proposed that if you [Jews] didn't lie then you should allow a group of independent and fair researchers to come and talk to people in Europe, see the documents [on the Holocaust], and inform the nations about the results of their research on the myth of the Holocaust."

Iranian Jewish Society head Yashayaei says in his letter, which is dated 26 January, that the holocaust is not a myth but remains "an infected wound for Western civilization."

Yashayaei compares the Holocaust with atrocities such as the 1988 massacre of Kurds in Halabche with chemical weapons and the 1982 killing of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He says none of these events can be considered a myth.

Condemnation At Home And Abroad

Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth and his call for Israel to be relocated to Europe or Alaska have been strongly condemned by a number of countries, including the United States and the EU.

In Iran, some observers had warned that Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli remarks could damage Iran's national interests. The only Jewish parliamentarian in Iran, Maurice Motamed, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 11 February that Jews around the world are offended by claims that the Holocaust did not take place.

"Denial of such a great historical tragedy that is connected to the Jewish community can only be considered an insult to all the world's Jewish communities."

Motamed added, however, that the anti-Holocaust comments will not have a negative impact on Iran's Jewish community and its members.

"The Iranian Jews have been present in this country for a long time, for some 2,700. During these 2,700 years they have always been in full understanding with the society, they've lived in friendship and brotherhood, so therefore I don't think that bringing up such an issue could damage the Jewish community in Iran."

In April, Motamed criticized state television for broadcasting anti-Semitic programs and said that some of the programs hurt the feelings of Jews and led to their emigration.

Some 85,000 Jews lived in Iran before the Islamic Revolution. Now they number between 25,000 and 30,000.

Official Policy

Ahmadinejad is not the only Iranian official to deny the Holocaust and make anti-Israeli comments. Not recognizing the legitimacy of Israel and supporting the Palestinian cause has been the official policy of the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.

But observers say Ahmadinejad has surpassed other Iranian officials by using almost every occasion to make inflammatory comments regarding Israel's existence and the Holocaust.

In recent months, the number of discussions and seminars devoted to the issue of the Holocaust have also increased in Iran.

Iran's plan to hold an international conference to examine the scale of the Holocaust has already been condemned by Israeli and EU officials, including British Premier Tony Blair, who lashed out at the planned meeting as "shocking, ridiculous, and stupid."

In his letter, Yashayaei also criticizes the holding of "different Holocaust denial seminars" and said that such actions will not achieve anything for the Iranian nation or for the world's Muslims or Palestinians. He says, "it just soothes the complexes of racists."

It is not clear whether Ahmadinejad has responded to the letter.

(RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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