Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used a Friday morning speech marking Norwuz, the Persian New Year, to call into question the Holocaust.
“The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened,” Khamenei’s Twitter account quoted him as saying in the speech.
“Does anybody dare talk about [the] Holocaust in Europe?” he asked. That tweet was preceded by one in which Khamenei said that “absolute freedom doesn’t exist anywhere in the word. Even countries that claim to have freedom, set redlines on which they are utterly strict.”
Mark Regev, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, said in response that, “Despite an all too effective international PR campaign to camouflage Iran’s real intentions, these comments once again expose the hateful and aggressive mindset of Iran’s most senior leadership.”
Khamenei, Regev said, “denies the Holocaust even as he seeks the means to threaten the Jewish state with nuclear genocide.”
One government source said Khamenei’s remarks, together with the recent interdiction of the Iranian orchestrated Klos C ship carrying missiles and mortars to the Gaza Strip, demonstrate that Iran has not changed either its behavior or its mindset. “It is a myth to talk about new Iranian moderation,” the official said.
The remarks by Iran’s most powerful leader came a day after President Shimon Peres reached out to the Iranian people in a holiday greeting, appealing for Israel and the Islamic Republic to “forget war and threatening” and have a year of “silence and peace.”
In his speech made to large crowds in Iran’s northeastern city of Mashhad, Khamenei also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process and chided the US in its role in what he said are failed negotiations.
He also accused the US alongside Israel of conspiring to rid the region of Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian.
“The US has failed in Palestine. They devised a scheme against Palestine and spared no efforts [in carrying it out],” Iran’s official Press TV quoted Khamenei as saying.
Khamenei’s rhetoric came as “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to improve Iran’s image in the international arena, after predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had tarnished it, often making inflammatory remarks denying the Holocaust.
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, expressed dismay at Khamenei’s comments on Friday.
“When countries are rushing to welcome back a supposedly more moderate Iran into the world community and to do business with it, they should remember it is not a new Iran, but the same Iran with a new face,” Lauder said.
“Ayatollah Khamenei’s words are unmistakable: He denies the Holocaust happened. Iran needs to renounce Holocaust denial, extremism, and bigotry if the world is to have any faith in its conduct and intentions. Until then, the West needs to be very careful in engaging with Tehran,” he added.
In September, Rouhani was quoted by CNN as condemning the Holocaust. Iranian media later accused CNN of fabricating Rouhani’s comments.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif caused an uproar among conservatives in the Islamic Republic when he called the Holocaust a “horrifying tragedy” in an interview with a German television station late last month.
These comments triggered a backlash, as Islamic hard-liners in Iran’s parliament reportedly summoned Zarif to protest the remarks.
Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.