Iran’s Raisi says research needed to verify if Holocaust happened

"There are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched," said Iranian President Raisi about the Holocaust.

 Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan September 15, 2022. (photo credit: IRAN'S PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan September 15, 2022.
(photo credit: IRAN'S PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi can not confirm that the Holocaust happened. Asked if he believes that six million Jews were killed, Raisi said in a 60 Minutes interview last Tuesday with Leslie Stahl, per translation: “Historical events should be investigated by researchers and historians. There are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted examples of “some signs” in response to the comments, with pictures of Jews in concentration camps. Lapid’s father was a Holocaust survivor.

How did Raisi's Holocaust comment come about? 

The question came as Stahl asked Raisi whether he was responsible for 3,000 deaths by hanging in the 1980s, under orders of then supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Raisi was the youngest member of the Tehran death committee in 1988 when it agreed to “eliminate” jailed members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) group for acts of treachery. Raisi was 28 at the time of the massacres.

 A supporter of Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi kisses his poster during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2017.  (credit: TIMA VIA REUTERS) A supporter of Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi kisses his poster during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2017. (credit: TIMA VIA REUTERS)

Asked by Stahl about these accusations, his response rattled off into a series of hits on Israel and Jews.

"Shocking to hear Iranian President Raisi's remarks calling into question whether the Holocaust happened," tweeted Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan. "I call on @antonioguterres to DENY THAT DENIER a world stage to spread antisemitism and hatred. The UN will reach a new low if they give the Butcher of Tehran a platform."

"I call on Antonio Guterres to deny that denier a world stage to spread antisemitism and hatred. The UN will reach a new low if they give the Butcher of Tehran a platform."

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan

Yad Vashem chairman Danny Dayan said in response to Raisi’s comments: “There are some signs that President Raisi is a vile antisemite.”

President Isaac Herzog responded with a picture that he presented at a speech he gave on Holocaust Remembrance Day of two arms, with the hands touching, over an Israeli flag. The one on the right shows a number, 55374, belonging to Dora Dreibelt-Eisenberg, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The arm on the left belongs to her great-granddaughter.

“Mr. Raisi, on my desk in Jerusalem there is one photograph,” Herzog wrote. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

What about Israel?

“So you’re not sure, I’m getting that, you’re not sure,” Stahl said, adding, “What about Israel’s right to exist?”

"The people of Palestine are the reality," Raisi responded. "This is the right of the people of Palestine who were forced to leave their houses and motherland. The Americans are supporting this false regime there, to take root and be established there." 

What about the Abraham Accords, states that normalized ties with Israel?

“If a state shakes hands with the Zionist regime, then they are an accomplice to their crimes,” Raisi responded. “They are stabbing the very idea of Palestine in the back.”

Iran, Raisi, and the nuclear deal

Regarding the nuclear negotiations, Raisi told Stahl that Tehran would be serious about reviving a deal on its nuclear program if there were guarantees the US would not withdraw from it again.

Iran’s foreign minister said last month that Tehran needed stronger guarantees from Washington for the revival of the 2015 deal, and urged the UN atomic watchdog to drop its “politically motivated probes” of Tehran’s nuclear work.

“If it’s a good deal and fair deal, we would be serious about reaching an agreement,” Raisi told Stahl. “It needs to be lasting. There needs to be guarantees. If there were a guarantee, then the Americans could not withdraw from the deal.”

"It needs to be lasting. There need to be guarantees. If there were a guarantee, then the Americans could not withdraw from the deal."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Stahl said that “as far as we can tell, you don’t use it for things that can help your citizens, like electricity. You say that you want it for peaceful reasons. Like what?”

“Medicine, agriculture, oil, gas,” he responded.

Only 1.8% of the country’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, according to the IAEA, Stahl said.

Raisi said the Americans had broken their promises on the deal, under which Tehran had restrained its nuclear program in exchange for relief from US, European Union and UN economic sanctions.

“The sanctions are very tyrannical, they are a tyranny against the people of Tehran,” Raisi said, decrying the economic sanctions former US president Donald Trump put in place and current President Joe Biden upheld.

“They did it unilaterally,” he said. “They said that ‘I am out of the deal.’ Now, making promises is becoming meaningless. We cannot trust the Americans because of the behavior that we have already seen from them. That is why if there is no guarantee, there is no trust.”

"We cannot trust the Americans because of the behavior that we have already seen from them. That is why if there is no guarantee, there is no trust."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

The US claims it can't trust Iran, especially when it insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, Stahl continued. 

How did a US journalist prepare for an interview with the Iranian president? 

CBS described the interview with Stahl as Raisi’s first with a Western reporter. “I was told how to dress, not to sit before he did and not to interrupt him,” Stahl said.

During months of talks with Washington in Vienna, Tehran demanded US assurances that no future US president would abandon the deal as Trump did in 2018.

The deal appeared near revival in March.

But indirect talks between Tehran and Washington then broke down over several issues, including Tehran's insistence that the International Atomic Energy Agency close its investigation into uranium traces found at three undeclared sites before the pact is revived.

There has been no sign that Tehran and Washington will manage to overcome their impasse, but Iran is expected to use the UN General Assembly to keep the diplomatic ball rolling by repeating its willingness to reach a sustainable deal.

However, Biden cannot provide the ironclad assurances Iran seeks because the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty.