Unpacking Iran’s confused attitudes to themselves and Jews

A new study released by World Public Opinion finds encouraging support for an Iranian/American rapprochement:

A new WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of Iranians finds that six in 10 favor restoration of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States, a stance that is directly at odds with the position the Iranian government has held for three decades. A similar number favor direct talks.

However, Iranians do not appear to share the international infatuation with Barack Obama. Only 16 percent say that have confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs. This is lower than any of the 20 countries polled by WPO on this question in the spring. Despite his recent speech in Cairo, where Obama stressed that he respects Islam, only a quarter of Iranians are convinced he does. And three in four (77%) continue to have an unfavorable view of the United States government.

Another part of the study, however, is causing concern in the Iranian Diaspora, namely the finding that supposedly over 80% of Iranians back President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, Lenin’s Tomb blog counters those who deny Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial (and argue Iran is the best friend the Palestinians ever had when, in fact, he is the exact opposite):

The claim made by the hard right clique around Ahmadinejad has been that they are the most effective defenders of the nation’s sovereignty, and that their opponents are either Western imperialist agents or being manipulated by Western imperialist agents. People have been arrested and tortured under this pretext. So, when Ahmadinejad has something to say about Zionism and its moral claims, he speaks with the assumed authority of the Republic, asserting it as an ally of Palestinians and an opponent of Western imperial power. His latest comments, made on Al Quds day when Iranians demonstrate on behalf of Palestine, appear to deny that the Holocaust took place and thereby claim that Israel’s moral mandate is fabricated. I would be quite prepared to be sceptical of any negative claims made about the Iranian leadership in the media, since these have been wrong in the past (cf ‘wiped off the map’). And, as Israel is blatantly itching to strike Iran in some fashion, one is justified in being wary of anything that could be used in the service of such an attack. However, the attempts thus far to provide a more ‘balanced’ interpretation of Ahmadinejad’s remarks look tentative at best.

First of all, it is patently obvious that Ahmadinejad did mean to assert that the Holocaust never took place, that it is a “lie” and a “pretext” for the founding of Israel. He further asserts that no research is permitted on the topic of the judeocide by “Zionists and Westerners”. There is no point in wasting time refuting Ahmadinejad’s claims, but it is worth saying a few things about them. Setting aside questions of probity, Ahmadinejad’s argument does not even amount to a particularly effective attack on Zionism. It concedes the wholly false idea that the legitimacy of the ‘Jewish state’ derives from the Nazi holocaust – the logical corollary of his point being that if the judeocide did take place, which it did, then Israel has legitimate grounds for existence. It concedes the lie that Zionism would be a natural and logical response to antisemitism, pogroms and extermination – it was and is nothing of the sort. It is as if the ideological bases for Zionism were not established well before WWII, as if the project was not already well under way under British tutelage, and as if its founders had nothing to be embarrassed about in terms of their relationship to the Third Reich (see Francis R Nicosia’s The Third Reich and the Palestine Question). I would infer that the reason for Ahmadinejad’s focus on the Nazi holocaust is that he thinks that Zionism is about Jews, not about colonialism or ethnic nationalism as such. He thinks that if he can undermine the claim that Jews have suffered horrendous oppression, he can undermine the moral basis for the “Jewish state”. It is an antisemitic argument, precisely because it concedes so many of the intellectual underpinnings of Zionism.