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Haifa, Israel — But shortly after Rouhani delivered his UN speech he acknowledged and condemned crimes committed by the Nazis towards Jews and non-Jews, speaking through an interpreter on CNN. But he added, “when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it,”
The condemnation was short of a comprehensive acknowledgment that the Holocaust took place on the scale understood by Western historians. Furthermore, a presidential advisor was quoted by a news agency loyal to the regime claiming that Rouhani had been mistranslated and had never even used the term “Holocaust. “
But five days later, his foreign minister clearly was talking about the Shoah. Mohammad Javad Zarif, who accompanied Rowhani to the United States, told ABC News bluntly that “the Holocaust is not a myth.” He went on to comment that the Holocaust “was a heinous crime, it was a genocide, it must never be allowed to be repeated.”
Jack Fogel, an 89-year-old survivor who lives in Jerusalem, related to the Iranian statements on a personal level, seeing the winning over of every Holocaust denier as a vindication of his own hardship. “I’m glad that they are now acknowledging that [the Holocaust] existed,” he said. “It’s a move in the right direction.”
But Moshe Stenger, who lives in the same Haifa home as Hershkovitz, dismissed the Iranians as “just making a show” for the West. He thought they would continue to deny the Holocaust domestically. “They say what suits them — it’s not real,” said Stenger, 76. He added: “I don’t pay attention to what the Iranians say. Every minute it’s something different.”
Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, a noted Talmudist who spent time in several camps during the Holocaust and went on to have a prolific academic and clerical career in America before moving to Jerusalem, took a similar view. “It makes no difference to me. It’s all politics and when the opportunity arises [Iran’s leaders will] change,” he commented.
Some public opinion experts believe the extraordinary interest in Iran’s position on the Holocaust is not just because partly a result of Netanyahu’s framing of Iran and the Holocaust as twin existential issues. Meir Eran, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv commented: “We are very touchy and emotional about the issue of our existence and the Holocaust is an existential issue for us, and the leadership has managed to sway the public — unfortunately — that Iran is an existential issue.”