Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that the Middle East was affected by antisemitism, calling claims of antisemitism in the region Zionist "propaganda," in an interview posted on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website.
"Those who have an antisemitic background live somewhere else in the world. In this region, we do not have a record of antisemitism. People of the region have always hosted – and continue to host – Jews in a warm manner," said Zarif. "No one can portray Muslims and Iranians – The people of the region have a record of saving the Jews – as antisemites."
While the Middle East and North Africa were largely safer for Jews than Europe throughout history, the region has certainly never been free of antisemitic sentiments.
Leading up to and after the declaration of the State of Israel, Jews in North Africa and the Middle East were persecuted and exiled from their homes. One notorious incident was the Farhud, a two-day pogrom in Iraq in 1941 in which about 180 Jews were killed. In the 1920s, riots and massacres occurred throughout the British mandate killing many Jews and causing many to flee cities and towns where Jewish communities had been for centuries.
Antisemitism has been present in the region for centuries in various forms. Moses Maimonides, a leading Jewish scholar who lived in North Africa in the 12th century, described the life of Jews in the region bitterly in his Epistle to Yemen, referring to the Arabs, who "have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us. Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they." Maimonides himself was forced to flee Spain after the Almohads took over the area and forced the Jews to either convert or die.
Zarif made the comments while discussing the Iranian position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the "Deal of the Century" Middle East peace plan.
The Iranian official stressed that the conflict could only be resolved through "democracy and resistance." Iran's partnership with Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, Iraq and other locations in the Middle East is commonly referred to as the "Axis of Resistance." Zarif stated that the "goal of the Resistance is clear," but added that democracy is "a very important player as well."
The Islamic Republic has promoted a referendum to resolve the issue, which would involve all residents who inhabited the area before the issuance of the Balfour Declaration voting to decide on a political system and the status of the "non-indigenous residents of Palestine." Muslims, Christians and Jews would have the right to participate.
Zarif dismissed claims that such a solution would lead to antisemitic attacks or the "massacre of the Jews."
"The Supreme Leader has reiterated many times that we have nothing against the Jewish people and that the Jews who have been living in Palestine have the right to reside there, but that they cannot determine the fate of others. It is each and every one of the Palestinians who should determine their own fate," said Zarif, adding that "resistance" and "democracy and popular vote" should both be put into practice simultaneously.
Zarif stressed that Iran believes that it is the Palestinians who have the right to choose and that the Islamic Republic accepts "that the Palestinians should make the final decision and their final decision should be respected by everyone."