The Iranian freedom movement and Israel

Animosity toward the Jewish state has always been a common denominator between so-called reformist and hard-line Islamists in Iran.

Ahmadinejad Salutes 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ahmadinejad Salutes 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Once again the world has let Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad use the propaganda platform he loves most: the speaker’s desk in front of the UN General Assembly in New York. As Frank Sinatra put it: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”
American progressives had a dinner party with the self-appointed Iranian president and there was a long queue for interviews with him. Years of the same procedure have still not tired Western leaders and media from detecting “signals for dialogue” somehow hidden in Ahmadinejad’s rambling conspiracy theories and well-known anti- Semitic slanders against the State of Israel.
Iranians living under the mullahs’ dictatorship or in exile are wondering if any insult or threat from the mouths of Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will ever convince the West to abandon its fantasies of a dialogue with the leaders of the Islamic Republic. Israelis might have the same questions. It is time to ask how much the two groups have in common.
Ahmadinejad called the 9/11 attacks a plot to “to save the Zionist regime” and accused Western countries of sacrificing freedom of speech on the “altar of Zionism.”
While it is exactly this anti-Semitism that gains him a global popularity other dictators can only dream of, it does not work in Iran, where he has become the most hated political figure in the country.
After three decades of Islamic theocracy, even some mullahs have lost their faith in the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, once the designated successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, died under house arrest last year. Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has been imprisoned since 2006 for advocating the separation of religion and state.
The regime can’t hope to attract domestic support on religious grounds anymore. It can only seek to destroy all alternatives to itself by the bloody persecution of its opponents and by dragging Iran into a war against Israel.
THE VOICE of Israel has been present in Iran via the Persian service of Radio Israel even before the revolution of 1979. Under the dictatorship of the mullahs, it became one of the most important sources of information for ordinary Iranians.
But the mortal enmity of the regime to Israel, despite or because of its omnipresence, has been a taboo for many Iranian opponents of the regime even if they themselves felt no resentment against the Jewish state. The events of last summer have fundamentally changed this situation.
The turning point was the socalled Kuds day in September 2009, when Iranians massively protested against the regime’s hate show against Israel. They countered the regime’s slogans “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” with chants against the allies of the Islamic Republic, Russia and China, and tore down solidarity banners for Hamas and Hizbullah. The popular rallying cry “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my life is for Iran” clearly expressed the refusal of the jihadi expansionism of the regime.
This day was an assault on the ideological foundations of the Islamic Republic, so painful to its leaders that they are still talking about it a year later, accusing the Islamic reformists of being the source of the demonstrators’ slogans.
Hatred of Israel has always been a common denominator between so-called reformist and hard-line Islamists in Iran. And without doubt, not only among the ruling theocrats are anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiments existent in Iranian society.
But their political expression has practically been reduced to those political factions that shared their anti-Israel beliefs already back in 1979: the different Islamist currents and a traditional Stalinist left, waning in influence.
After the Mavi Marmara incident, a group of Iranian leftist and Muslim intellectuals and artists from abroad signed a statement claiming to find “similarities between the violence exhibited by the occupying regime of Israel and the suppressive regime of the Islamic Republic” and supporting the “admirable and brave struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and democracy.”
In a counter petition, Saeed Ghaseminejad, speaker of the liberal students of Iran and other Iranian intellectuals and activists denounced this equation as an insult to the peaceful protest movement in Iran and as a tragic failure to correct the anti-Semitic past of the Iranian Left.
Since the rigged elections of June 2009 it has become clearer every day for Iranians that effective resistance against a totalitarian dictatorship is only possible if its opponents are willing to challenge openly all its ideological foundations – and besides gender apartheid, anti-Zionism is the most important one.
Many have claimed that the anti- Israel aggressions of the Islamic Republic should be documented separately from its human rights record to protect the opposition against regime charges of being “agents of Zionism.”
This has always been futile because “Zionist” has been a regime accusation against all serious opponents from the beginning – regardless of their relation to Israel and the Jews.
Today this warning has become obsolete because Iranians do not let themselves become intimidated anymore by the regime’s conspiracy theories. Hassan Dai, a journalist who has consistently exposed the work of the Iranian regime lobby in the United States, has recently published several articles focusing on anti-Zionism as the ideological platform this lobby is acting on. And the political analyst Nima Rashedan urges his readers to compare the camp of the sympathisers of Israel to that of its enemies, concluding that “friendship to and hatred against Israel are the criteria to tell apart civilization from primitiveness.”
In Europe and other parts of the world, hatred of Israel is an intellectual resentment and a tool to gain influence in the Middle East. For democratic Iranians, it is a vital matter of self-interest to renounce the terrorist foreign policy of the regime, which at the end of the day is exerted against them. Iranian society today is questioning everything the Islamic Republic stands for.

The writers are founding members of the German chapter of the European coalition Stop the Bomb.