Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses a news conference after a meeting in Vienna November 24.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says that his country has saved the Jewish people three times in history, and does not seek their annihilation.
In an interview with NBC News, Zarif rejected characterizations to the contrary put forth by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week in an address to a joint meeting of the US Congress.
“Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us,” Netanyahu said on the eve of Purim, commemorating the salvation of Iran’s Jews under threats of genocide from the ancient Persian kingdom.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology.”
But Zarif rejected the accusation that Iran’s opposition to the existence of the Israeli government, which it calls the Zionist regime, is equivalent to anti-Semitism.
“He even distorts his own scripture,” Zarif told his interviewer, Ann Curry, addressing Netanyahu’s reference to Purim. “If you read the Book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews. If you read the Old Testament, you will see that it was an Iranian king who saved the Jews from Babylon. Esther has a town in Iran where our Jewish population, which is the largest in the Middle East, visits on a regular basis.”
According to Iranian government figures, roughly 8,800 Jews live in the country, out of a total 26,000 Jews in the entire Middle East outside Israel.
Zarif said that Netanyahu’s position reflected “bigotry” over facts, and asserted that Iran “has saved Jews three times in its history: Once during that time of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews.”
Zarif’s allusion to the Holocaust is notable: The morning after Netanyahu’s speech, conservative newspapers in Iran ran cartoons denying that Hitler’s genocide against Jews ever happened.
“For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said in his address, “listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: ‘If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.’” Speaking after Netanyahu’s speech, US President Barack Obama thoroughly criticized the prime minister’s remarks on his position with Iran in talks over its nuclear program. But he expressed agreement with several aspects of the speech, including Netanyahu’s characterization of Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism worldwide, and “the fact that Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel and engaged in the most venomous of anti-Semitic statements.”
“No one can dispute that,” Obama said.
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