Although it did not stay up for long, visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 30th 2013 were offered the opportunity to read BBC diplomatic/defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus’ supercilious chiding of the Israeli government for not being in step with the latest fashion under the title “Iran-US ‘rapprochement’ challenges Israel’s Netanyahu” – presented under the heading “Features & Analysis”.
“In the United States this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu risks appearing like a ghost at the feast; a travelling salesman whose wares have lost their appeal; a man whose warnings against Iranian perfidy seem out of tune with the moment.”
Although Marcus admits that the spectacle of smiles, soft phrasing and one phone call “has provoked a wave of euphoria among commentators and even some diplomats”, he does not offer any serious analysis on the subject of whether that “wave of euphoria” – also being ridden by the BBC – has any justification.
Revealingly, Marcus presents Israel as the lone party pooper out in the cold and in order to do that, he has to funnel the entire ‘Iranian issue’ into the packaging of a deal curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, whilst ignoring other no less relevant issues such as Iran’s support for Bashar Assad’s regime and its involvement in international terrorism. Significantly, he ignores the fact that even the media’s current favourite ‘Mr Nice Guy’ has clearly stated that he would “never give up his country’s right to enrich uranium“.
Of course Israel is not the only country in the Middle East to be underwhelmed by the sight of Western politicians and journalists swooning over Hassan Rouhani like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert – although BBC audiences are told nothing about that. The Bahraini foreign minister’s recent UN speech revealed some of that country’s concerns.
“…noting the need to inscribe organizations such as the Lebanese Hezbollah on the international list of terrorist organizations in view of their criminal terrorist acts aimed at terrorizing peaceful civilians and generating instability and chaos. ” […]
“The first among these challenges is the need to put an end to Iranian intervention in the internal affairs of the countries of the region and its occupation of the three Emirates’ islands: Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa”…
“Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst with the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.”
The most notable paragraph in Marcus’ article, however, is this one, which comes under the interesting sub-heading of “‘Unhealthy’ negativity”: [emphasis added]
“Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed Israeli diplomats to absent themselves from the UN chamber when President Rouhani was speaking. Iranian comments moderating their long-standing denial of the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis during World War II won Tehran few brownie points in Israel.”
Marcus – in line with many of his colleagues in the media – appears to have persuaded himself that a few recent strategically chosen words and phrases, uttered by less than a handful of dignitaries, signify a “moderating” of Iranian Holocaust denial for which Israelis should be grateful – and he now seeks to herd his readers towards the same conclusion.
Marcus’ interpretation of comments made by Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister is of course based on what might be politely called selective hearing. Ten days before the appearance of Marcus’ article the BBC News website published an item on Rouhani’s NBC interview in which it completely ignored the parts of the conversation relating to the Holocaust.
“…he deflected a question from NBC News’ Ann Curry about whether he believed that the Holocaust was “a myth.”
“I’m not a historian. I’m a politician,” he replied. “What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other, and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice.” “
Rouhani’s “I’m not a historian” line appeared again in a later controversial interview with CNN which received partial coverage from the BBC with no mention of Rouhani’s subsequent remarks which revealed little in the way of “moderation”, at best clearly questioning the scale of the Holocaust.
“Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemnable. The dimensions of it which you say, is the responsibility of historians and researchers to make those dimensions clear. I am not a historian myself.
However, this point should be clear: If a crime took place, that crime should not be a cover for a nation or group to justify their crimes or oppression against others. Therefore, if the Nazis committed a crime, and however much it was, we condemn that, because genocide or mass murder is condemned.
From our viewpoint, it doesn’t matter if the person killed is Jewish, Christian or Muslim. From our viewpoint, [it] does not make difference. Killing an innocent human is rejected and condemned. But this cannot be a reason for 60 years to displace a people from their land and say that the Nazis committed crimes. That crime [too] is condemned; occupying the land of others is also condemned from our viewpoint.” [emphasis added]
On September 8th the BBC claimed that Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had “distanced himself from the Holocaust denials of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” in a Tweet in which Zarif in fact related to Ahmadinejad’s “perceived” Holocaust denial. Since then, Zarif has publicly said that “the Holocaust is not a myth” whilst at the same time blaming “bad translation” for the fact that a statement on the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader describes the Holocaust in exactly such terms (and regime-controlled media continues down the same route) and using antisemitic Nazi analogies.
“This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English,” he said. “You may lose some of the meaning. This has unfortunately been the case several times over. The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people whether it happens in Nazi Germany or whether it is happening in Palestine.”
As Chemi Shalev wrote on September 30th in Ha’aretz:
“But Iran’s ongoing Holocaust denial, absolute or partial, is much more than a personal or even collective affront. It is a telltale sign, first and foremost, of the Iranian regime’s abiding anti-Semitism, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum makes clear: “Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests.”
Consequently, if the blatant Holocaust denial of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a clear-cut manifestation of their “hatred of Jews,” then the more sterile version of Holocaust distortion offered by Rohani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is but a refined version of the exact same odious sentiment.”
For some reason, Jonathan Marcus seeks to persuade BBC audiences that Israel should be gratefully giving out “brownie points” to any Iranian official who does a mealy-mouthed makeover on Ahmadinejad’s previous performance. The waters of that “wave of euphoria” appear to have turned Mr Marcus’ critical and analytic faculties rather soggy.