Iranian regime leader Ebrahim Raisi was given a platform to deny the Holocaust by US media this week. And it wasn’t that the denial didn’t come as some surprise in the interview: CBS 60 Minutes put it up on Twitter as a highlight.
This illustrates a tendency to use the Iran regime's denial for clicks; rather than challenging the denial, it is portrayed as a legitimate viewpoint.
The tweet about the denial notes that “when asked if he believed the Holocaust happened, Iranian President Raisi told Lesley Stahl, 'there are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched.’”
The Iranian regime appears to have dictated how people would dress around the regime leader – and a regime agent apparently took the phone of a member of the media team for more than two hours. How, exactly, the regime gets this privilege to dictate clothing, take phones and deny the Holocaust without any pushback is unclear.
What is also unclear is why the response by Israeli leaders has been to show images of survivors or victims of the Shoah.
There is something strange that in the year 2022, we are still debating whether the Holocaust happened, merely because the Iranian regime gets the privilege to push this messaging via Western media.
Is the correct response to someone who pushes misinformation and racism to refute racism by legitimizing it? For instance: If the ruler of a country went on American television in a relaxing interview and said that people of color were inferior or that slavery never happened, would the best response be to put up images of slavery? Or would a better response be to wonder why these views are being given at this stage in the first place?
It’s well known that the Iranian regime has made racist, antisemitic Holocaust denial a part of its messaging for decades; why purposely ask about this offensive topic? Why give the regime not just the platform to deny the Shoah, but then make that the central tweet about the interview? And why respond to this racism by legitimizing it, saying that the Holocaust did happen, rather than dismissing the Iranian regime as a racist, far-right ranting one that murders its own people?
The murder of Mahsa Amini
This is the same regime that days ago sent its “morality” police to harass and murder a woman in Iran named Mahsa Amini. A member of the Kurdish minority, she was visiting Tehran with her family when she was kidnapped by police and murdered for not wearing her “hijab” or head covering correctly.
The regime that murders women and minorities is the same one that also gets a red carpet from Western media to spread Holocaust denial and tell reporters how to dress.
THE IRANIAN regime has been enabled for decades to push Holocaust denial, often unchallenged. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became a kind of celebrity in the West for his denials. He was invited to Columbia University.
Holocaust-denying world leaders
The invitations to Holocaust-denying world leaders appear to be a pattern in Western universities. For example, when Malaysia also had outspoken antisemite Mahathir Mohammed at the helm, he got an invite to Columbia as well.
The same Western universities that talk about safe spaces and are worried about racism and disinformation, also seem to host foreign leaders who deny the Holocaust and give them a platform for their denial. The Malaysian denier also spoke at Oxford and Cambridge.
It appears that leaders of countries like Malaysia who are not outspoken antisemites don’t get the same invitations. How can this be explained? When a leader of Iran or Malaysia is openly antisemitic, then they get invites, but if they are not racists, they don’t.
This appears to be a kind of privilege accorded to foreign leaders who are racist and hold far-right antisemitic views. When the leaders preach tolerance and coexistence and host Jews, then they are less likely to get an invite or a long interview.
One might conclude that the West has a way of pushing Holocaust denial today that is very complex and nuanced. Western media and universities don’t host local far-right racist antisemites. But if foreign leaders express antisemitic ideas, then they are accorded an audience and legitimized. Is this a way for the West to enable Holocaust denial by proxy?
Holocaust denial is a Western phenomenon
The same area where the Shoah happened gave rise to voices that denied it. Then those voices informed extremists abroad, especially in some Muslim countries that are anti-Israel.
This has now become a theme among regimes such as Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and even in Turkey – and among the Palestinians. Anti-Israel views are mixed with antisemitic and Holocaust denial ones.
This toxic mix of Western-inspired antisemitism with the anti-Israel views of a number of regimes has created a huge pool of new antisemites. Even as the Western world reduced antisemitism after 1945, this new pool then gave rise to a new version of it.
Oddly, some Western media and academic institutions have treated this as if it is a legitimate view for a foreign leader to have. Afraid of enabling the local far-right, these invitations go to right-wing regimes abroad.
Considering the fact that the same media and academic institutions wouldn’t give other types or racism a platform, it appears to only target Jews and the Shoah.
THE WRONG response to Holocaust denial by Iran’s regime is to show images of the Holocaust. The regime knows there was a Holocaust and it has adopted denial as part of its anti-Israel policy.
The same was true of the Malaysian leader – he adopted antisemitism as part of a platform designed to influence and radicalize other Muslim countries.
There is a lot of pushback in the region now against antisemitism. The Abraham Accords and other changes have led to respect for Jewish history and religion.
The Iranian regime didn’t generally deny the Holocaust at home; it adopted this manifesto mostly for a foreign audience. It also pushed “Holocaust denial” cartoon contests to get attention and as a way to get back at the West for cartoons it said slandered the Islamic prophet.
But this decision was strange because it was punishing the Jewish minority, who were victims of European antisemitism, for what it viewed as European anti-Islamic views. Why punish one minority to get back at the majority?
This messaging by the regime in Tehran is entirely geared toward the West – and it likely knows that it can influence a new generation of antisemites, hoping to turn them into anti-Israel lobbyists on its behalf.
It’s unclear why the regime gets a platform to push this disinformation. It’s possible to do an interview with the regime and not ask about the Holocaust, or simply cut the Holocaust denial from the interview. It’s also possible to respond to the regime without legitimizing its views by debating the Shoah’s facts.