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Confusing matters, Israeli news websites quoted an official in the Iranian president’s office denying any New Year greetings had been sent and saying Rouhani’s English-language Twitter account, used during his election campaign, was not active.
There was no denial from Zarif and the minister went further to push back on a comment that Iran denies the Nazi Holocaust: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone,” he tweeted, apparently meaning Ahmadinejad.
On Facebook, he wrote: “We condemn the massacre of Jews by the Nazis and we condemn the massacre of Palestinians by the Zionists.”
Iran is home to the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East - albeit only a few thousand people following mass emigration last century. It denies Israel’s right to exist but even Ahmadinejad embraced some Jews - as long as they rejected the Zionist movement that established the Israeli state.
Neither Rouhani or Zarif mentioned the word “Israel”.
“It’s hard to feel flattered about this form of anti-Semitism that says Jews are OK as long as they don’t dare have their own sovereign state,” said Michal Bachar, a 36-year-old from Jerusalem.
Arieh Rosen, 33, a cultural representative at the Polish Institute, said the New Year greetings were “cute” but did not generate much talk among his family and friends at holiday gatherings. “I suppose it is a calculated PR stunt,” he said.
Naama Shilony, 33, a mother of two from Jerusalem, said her family did discuss the tweets. And while her relatives thought it was “bullshit”, she said it had made her happy.
“It was a positive encouraging sign,” she said. “I just regret it was made on Twitter, which is an informal platform.”
Iran has been at the forefront of Israeli policy-making for years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged his Western allies not to be lulled by conciliatory words from Rouhani.
In his own New Year address, Netanyahu again stressed that tackling Iran’s nuclear programme was “of paramount importance”.
He said: “We simply cannot allow the world’s most dangerous regime to obtain the world’s most dangerous weapon.”