Tehran is not calling for the “disappearance of Jewish people,” and people of all religions should decide Israel’s future, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.
Iran’s supreme leader made the remarks at the International Conference on Islamic Unity in Tehran.
“There has been a frequent mention of the ‘disappearance of the State of Israel.’ This does not mean the disappearance of the Jewish people. We have nothing to do with them,” he said. “This means the disappearance of that imposed regime,” he said, referring to Israel.
The ayatollah said that after Israel disappears, “the people of Palestine – be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish – should choose their own government,” and that Palestinians would “oust people like [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
Khamenei said “we are not antisemitic” and that “Jews live in Iran safely.” Upwards of 20,000 Jews live in Iran today.
The remnant of this ancient community continues to practice Judaism, and while the bulk of Persian Jewry mostly fled to Israel and the US following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Jews of Iran maintain that they are permitted freedom of worship by the authorities.
During the address, Khamenei also criticized Western powers for pressuring Tehran over its nuclear program.
“All nations need peaceful nuclear energy, but Western monopolists seek to keep this energy in monopoly...,” Khamenei said. “Westerners know that we are not seeking nuclear weapons because of our principles and [religious] beliefs.”
Iran has repeatedly denied ever having sought to build a nuclear bomb, referring to a religious decree issued in the early 2000s by Khamenei that bans the development or use of nuclear weapons.
US intelligence agencies and the UN nuclear watchdog believe Iran had a covert atomic bomb program for a number of years that it subsequently halted.
France, Britain and Germany said this week they were extremely concerned by Iran’s decision to resume uranium enrichment at an underground plant, though they stopped short of directly urging new sanctions.
Iran’s move was the latest in a series of steps through which Tehran has overstepped the limits of its 2015 nuclear pact with world powers, in response to the United States withdrawing from the accord last year and reimposing sanctions
Reuters contributed to this report.