The enmity between Israel and Iran has a "long history," dating back to the story of Purim, an Iranian parliamentarian stated that in an interview with the Iranian Fars News Agency on Sunday.
"The Zionist regime is the sworn enemy of Iran and Iranians, and this enmity, without any connection to the ruling regime in Iran, has a long history, so that the Zionists still celebrate Purim every year on the anniversary of the brutal massacre of the Iranian people," said Zohreh Lajevardi, Tehran's representative in the Iranian parliament, also known as the Majles. "But with the victory of the revolution, this enmity became so public, so much so that a brief look at the events of the last 40 years proves well that this vicious regime is the sworn enemy of Iran and Iranians."
The Purim story took place in the Persian Empire in the city of Shushan, identified as the modern Iranian town of Shush in western Iran. The Scroll of Esther tells how Haman, a high-ranking minister in the kingdom of Ahasuerus, attempted to destroy the Jews in the Persian Empire, and how he was thwarted by Mordechai and his relative Esther, who married Ahasuerus. The exact timing and identity of the characters in the story is debated by historians.
The tomb of Esther and Mordechai, where Iranian Jews believe the two are buried, is located north of Shush in Hamedan, Iran.
Last year, the tomb was torched by unknown assailants and in the past, threats have been made to damage or tear down the tomb.
This isn't the first time that Iranian officials and press have used the Purim story for political purposes or to spread antisemitism.
In a Fars article in 2011, the head of the Student Basij Organization in Hamedan referred to the Purim story as an "Iranian holocaust," saying the "corrupt" Esther massacred about 75,000 "innocent" Iranians. Throughout the article, the Student Basij Organization head linked Esther and Mordechai to the "Zionists" and used the terms "Zionist" and "Jew" interchangeably.
In 2017, former Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that the Book of Esther “tells of how Xerxes I (who Zarif identifies as Ahasuerus) saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day [Purim].”
Iranian officials often insist that they are only anti-Zionist and have no issues with the Jewish people in general. Former Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed: “We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless Zionists.” Jews in Iran have an official minority status and a representative in parliament. About 10,000 Jews are estimated to live in Iran, 90,000 less than lived there before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Lajevardi's interview with Fars on Sunday focused on her calls to combat attempts by Israel to impose restrictions on Iranian athletes in international arenas.
"One of the most valuable approaches of Iran after the Islamic Revolution has been the lack of confrontation between the athletes of the country and the athletes of the usurping Zionist regime in sports fields," said the parliamentarian in the Fars interview, stressing that, in Iran's view, "there is no foreign country called Israel."
"This evil regime has been occupying Palestine for decades and has imprisoned this free nation, and there is not a day that a man, woman or child is not killed in occupied Palestine and all these abuses take place in the absolute silence of international human rights organizations and institutions," claimed Lajevardi.
The parliamentarian stressed that "Due to the enmity that this regime has with the culture, religion and customs of Iran and Iranians, we will never recognize them at any level, including as an opponent and in sports fields that are based on chivalry, peace and tranquility."
Lajevardi called for legal action to be taken against attempts to restrict athletes who refuse to face Israeli athletes.