Continued from Part 2
Reza Pahlavi’s spectacular rise to power in 1925 was accompanied by dramatic reforms, including secularization and westernization efforts, as well as a revitalization of Iran’s pre-Islamic spiritual and cultural heritage. This profound sociopolitical transformation had very positive consequences for Iranian Jewry. Walter Fischel’s analysis from the late 1940s (published in 1950), along with Laurence Loeb’s complementary insights three decades
later, underscore the impact of the Pahlavis’ (i.e., Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah) reforms:
(Fischel) In breaking the power of the Shia clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, he [Reza Shah] shaped a modernized and secularized state, freed almost entirely from the fetters of a once fanatical and powerful clergy…The rebirth of the Persian state and the manifold reforms implied therein tended also to create conditions more favorable to Jews. It enabled them to enjoy, along with the other citizens of Persia, that freedom and liberty which they had long been denied.
(Loeb) The Pahlavi period…has been the most favorable era for Persian Jews since Parthian rule [175 B.C. to 226 C.E.]…the ‘Law of Apostasy’ was abrogated about 1930. While Reza Shah did prohibit political Zionism and condoned the execution of the popular liberal Jewish reformer Hayyim Effendi, his rule was on the whole, an era of new opportunities for the Persian Jew. Hostile outbreaks against the Jews have been prevented by the government. Jews are no longer legally barred from any profession. They are required to serve in the army and pay the same taxes as Muslims. The elimination of the face-veil removed a source of insult to Jewish women, who had been previously required have their faces uncovered; now all women are supposed to appear unveiled in public…Secular educations were available to Jewish girls as well as to boys, and, for the first time, Jews could become government-licensed teachers…Since the ascendance of Mohammad Reza Shah (Aryamehr) in 1941, the situation has further improved…Not only has the number of poor been reduced, but a new bourgeoisie is emerging…For the first time Jews are spending their money on cars, carpets, houses, travel, and clothing. Teheran has attracted provincial Jews in large numbers and has become the center of Iranian Jewish life…The Pahlavi era has seen vastly improved communications between Iranian Jewry and the rest of the world. Hundreds of boys and girls attend college and boarding school in the United States and Europe. Israeli emissaries come for periods of two years to teach in the Jewish schools…A small Jewish publication industry has arisen since 1925…Books on Jewish history, Zionism, the Hebrew language and classroom texts have since been published…On March 15, 1950, Iran extended de facto recognition to Israel. Relations with Israel are good and trade is growing.
But Loeb, who finished his anthropological field work in southern Iran during the waning years of Pahlavi rule, concluded on this cautionary, prescient note, in 1976, emphasizing the Jews’ tenuous status:
Despite the favorable attitude of the government and the relative prosperity of the Jewish community, all Iranian Jews acknowledge the precarious nature of the present situation. There are still sporadic outbreaks against them because the Muslim clergy constantly berates Jews, inciting the masses who make no effort to hide their animosity towards the Jew. [emphasis added] Most Jews express the belief that it is only the personal strength and goodwill of the Shah that protects them: that plus God’s intervention! If either should fail… [emphasis added].
The so-called “Khomeini revolution”, which deposed Mohammad Reza Shah, was in reality a mere return to oppressive Shi’ite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Persian/Iranian governance since 1502. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Bahais and Jews, rapidly deteriorated. David Littman recounts the Jews immediate plight:
In the months preceding the Shah’s departure on 16 January 1979, the religious minorities…were already beginning to feel insecure…Twenty thousand Jews left the country before the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini on 1 February…On 16 March, the honorary president of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, a wealthy businessman, was arrested and charged by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal with “corruption” and “contacts with Israel and Zionism”; he was shot on 8 May.
And Littman concluded this 1979 essay with the following appeal:
It is to be hoped that the new regime will not revert to the pre-Pahlavi attitudes of the Shī‘a clergy, but will prefer a path of equality for all of its citizens, thus demonstrating in practice the “tolerant” attitude of Islam so frequently proclaimed. [emphasis added]
Littman’s essay also alludes to the emigration of 20,000 Iranian Jews just prior to Khomeini’s assumption of power. The demographic decline of Iranian Jewry since the creation of Israel has been rather dramatic even including the relatively “halcyon days” before 1978/1979—from nearly 120,000 in 1948 to roughly 70,000 in 1978, and at present barely 20,000 (and perhaps even less).
The writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shi’ite theocracy—including Khomeini himself—make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forbears in the Safavid and Qajar dynasties. For example, Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the Iranian Shi’ite leader of the Ne’ematullahi Sultanalishahi Sufi Order, wrote an “Islamic perspective” on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian’s important study of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh’s tract became “…the core ideological work upon which the Iranian government…based its non-Muslim policy.” Tabandeh begins his discussion by lauding as a champion “…of the oppressed” Shah Ismail I (1502-1524), the repressive and bigoted founder of the Safavid dynasty, who “…bore hatred against the Jews and ordered their eyes to be gouged out if they happened to be found in his vicinity.” It is critical to understand that Tabandeh’s key views on non-Muslims, summarized below, were implemented “…almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims, under the Shari’a:
Thus if [a] Muslim commits adultery his punishment is 100 lashes, the shaving of his head, and one year of banishment. But if the man is not a Muslim and commits adultery with a Muslim woman his penalty is execution…Similarly if a Muslim deliberately murders another Muslim he falls under the law of retaliation and must by law be put to death by the next of kin. But if a non-Muslim who dies at the hand of a Muslim has by lifelong habit been a non-Muslim, the penalty of death is not valid. Instead the Muslim murderer must pay a fine and be punished with the lash.
Since Islam regards non-Muslims as on a lower level of belief and conviction, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim…then his punishment must not be the retaliatory death, since the faith and conviction he possesses is loftier than that of the man slain…Again, the penalties of a non-Muslim guilty of fornication with a Muslim woman are augmented because, in addition to the crime against morality, social duty and religion, he has committed sacrilege, in that he has disgraced a Muslim and thereby cast scorn upon the Muslims in general, and so must be executed.
Islam and its peoples must be above the infidels, and never permit non-Muslims to acquire lordship over them. Since the marriage of a Muslim woman to an infidel husband (in accordance with the verse quoted: ‘Men are guardians form women’) means her subordination to an infidel, that fact makes the marriage void, because it does not obey the conditions laid down to make a contract valid. As the Sura (“The Woman to be Examined”, [i.e., sura 60, specifically verse 60:10] ) says: “Turn them not back to infidels: for they are not lawful unto infidels nor are infidels lawful unto them (i.e., in wedlock).”
The conception of najis or ritual uncleanliness of the non-Muslim has also been reaffirmed. Ayatollah Khomeini stated explicitly, “Non-Muslims of any religion or creed are najis.”
Khomeini elaborated his views on najis and non-Muslims, with a specific reference to Jews, as follows:
Eleven things are unclean: urine, excrement, sperm, blood, a dog, a pig, bones, a non-Muslim man and woman [emphasis added], wine, beer, perspiration of a camel that eats filth…The whole body of a non-Muslim is unclean, even his hair, his nails, and all the secretions of his body…A child below the age of puberty is unclean if his parents and grandparents are not Muslims; but if he has a Muslim for a forebear, then he is clean…The body, saliva, nasal secretions, and perspiration of a non-Muslim man or woman who converts to Islam automatically become pure. As for the garments, if they were in contact with the sweat of the body before conversion, they will remain unclean…It is not strictly prohibited for a Muslim to work in an establishment run by a Muslim who employs Jews, if the products do not aid Israel in one way or another. However it is shameful [for a Muslim] to be under the orders of a Jewish departmental head.
The Iranian Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri further indicated that a non-Muslim (kafir’s) impurity was, “a political order from Islam and must be adhered to by the followers of Islam, and the goal [was] to promote general hatred toward those who are outside Muslim circles.” This “hatred” was to assure that Muslims would not succumb to corrupt, i.e., non-Islamic thoughts.
Khomeini’s views were the most influential in shaping the ideology of the revitalized Shi’ite theocracy, and his attitudes towards Jews (both before and after he assumed power) were particularly negative. Khomeini’s speeches and writings invoked a panoply of Judenhass motifs, including orthodox interpretations of sacralized Muslim texts (for e.g., describing the destruction of the Banu Qurayza), and the Shi’ite conception of najis. More ominously, Khomeini’s rhetoric blurred the distinction between Jews and Israelis, reiterated paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews (both within Persia/Iran, and beyond), and endorsed the annihilation of the Jewish State. Sanasarian highlights these disturbing predilections:
The Jews and Israelis were interchangeable entities who had penetrated all facets of life. Iran was being “trampled upon under Jewish boots”. The Jews had conspired to kill the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah and had a historically grand design to rule through a new monarchy and a new government (the Pahlavi dynasty): “Gentlemen, be frightened. They are such monsters”. In a vitriolic attack on Mohammad Reza Shah’s celebration of 2500 years of Persian monarchy in 1971, Khomeini declared that Israeli technicians had planned the celebrations and they were behind the exuberant expenses and overspending. Objecting to the sale of oil to Israel, he said: “We should not ignore that the Jews want to take over Islamic countries”…In an address to the Syrian foreign minister after the Revolution Khomeini lamented: “If Muslims got together and each poured one bucket of water on Israel, a flood would wash away Israel.”
Sanasarian provides one particularly disturbing example of this Islamic state-sanctioned Jew hatred, involving the malevolent indoctrination of young adult candidates for national teacher training programs. Affirming as objective, factual history the hadith account (for eg., Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 47, Number 786) of Muhammad’s supposed poisoning by a Jewish woman from ancient Khaybar, she notes,
Even worse, the subject became one of the questions in the ideological test for the Teachers’ Training College where students were given a multiple-choice question in order to identify the instigator of the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad, the “correct” answer being “a Jewess. ”
Reza Afshari’s seminal analysis of human rights in contemporary Iran summarizes the predictable consequences for Jews of the Khomeini “revolution”:
As antisemitism found official expression…and the anti-Israeli state propaganda became shriller, Iranian Jews felt quite uncertain about their future under the theocracy. Early in 1979, the execution of Habib Elqaniyan, a wealthy, self-made businessman, a symbol of success for many Iranian Jews, hastened emigration. The departure of the chief rabbi for Europe in the summer of 1980 underlined the fact that the hardships that awaited the remaining Jewish Iranians would far surpass those of other protected minorities
Beyond the well publicized execution of Habib Elganian in May 1979, an excess of Jews compared to other “recognized religious minorities” were imprisoned, and by 1982, nine more Jews had been executed.
Afshari also captures the crushing psychosocial impact on Iran’s remaining Jews of restored Shi’ite theocratic rule- the recrudescence of a fully servile dhimmi mentality: 765
The Jewish leaders had to go so far as to openly denounce the policies of the State of Israel. It was disquieting to read a news item that reported the Jewish representative in the Majlis criticizing, in carefully chosen words…actions of his co-religionists in Israel, especially when upon the conclusion of his remarks the other (Shi’ite) deputies burst into the chant “Death to Israel!” The contemporary state violating the human rights of its citizens left behind a trail of pathological behaviors [emphasis added]…Equally baffling, if not placed against the Jewish community’s predicament, was the statement by the Jewish leaders concerning the arrests of thirteen Jews charged with espionage for Israel in June 1999. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has demonstrated to the world that it has treated the Jewish community and other religious minorities well; the Iranian Jewish community has enjoyed constitutional rights of citizenship, and the arrest and charges against a number of Iranian Jews has nothing to do with their religion.” The bureaucratic side of the state needed such a statement, and the Jewish leaders in Tehran had no choice but to oblige.
Afshari’s blunt description of this phenomenon among contemporary Iranian Jews labels such prototypical dhimmi behaviors a “pathological,” if understandable response to their “predicament.” The apotheosis of Iranian Jewish dhimmitude is perhaps Parviz Yeshaya. A staunch anti-Zionist, Yeshaya who until recently headed the Jewish Committee in Tehran, was one of the first Jews to support Ayatollah Khomeini, and has called for the destruction of the state of Israel. And public dhimmi behaviors were again evident in the summer of 2006. During the conflagration on the Israeli-Lebanon border—initiated by the Iranian regime’s jihadist proxy organization, Hezbollah—Jews from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz were prominently displayed on state-run television participating in a regime-sponsored pro-Hezbollah rally.
Demonizing Israel and Jews—via motifs in the Koran, hadith, and sira—Hezbollah views the jihad against the “Zionist entity” as an annihilationist war intrinsic to broader conflicts: the struggle between the Islamic world and the non-Muslim world, and the historical struggle between Islam and Judaism. The most senior clerical authority for Hezbollah, Husayn Fadlalah has stated, “We find in the Koran that the Jews are the most aggressive towards the Muslims…because of their aggressive resistance to the unity of the faith.” Fadlallah repeatedly refers to anti-Jewish archetypes in the Koran, hadith, and sira: the corrupt, treacherous and aggressive nature of the Jews; their reputation as killers of prophets, who spread corruption on earth; and the notion that the Jews engaged in conspiratorial efforts against the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Hassan Nasrallah, current Secretary General of Hezbollah, and a protége of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, presently Iran’s highest ranking political and religious authority (i.e., its “Guardian Jurisprudent”), has reiterated these antisemitic views with particular vehemence. Invoking motifs from Islam’s foundational texts, Nasrallah has characterized Jews as the “grandsons of apes and pigs,” and as “Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures.” He elaborates these themes into an annihilationist animus against all Jews, not merely Israelis.
Anyone who reads the Koran and the holy writings of the monotheistic religions sees what they did to the prophets, and what acts of madness and slaughter the Jews carried out throughout history…
Anyone who reads these texts cannot think of co-existence with them, of peace with them, or about accepting their presence, not only in Palestine of 1948 but even in a small village in Palestine, because they are a cancer which is liable to spread again at any moment…There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel.
If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli…[I]f they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.
Hezbollah is viscerally opposed to Judaism and the existence of Israel, stressing the eternal conflict between the Jews and Islam. Eradicating Israel represents an early stage of Hezbollah’s Pan-Islamic ambitions, and its jihad against the rest of the non-Muslim world.
Support for Hezbollah abroad—which seeks the destruction of Israel, the Middle East’s lone state liberated from the system of dhimmitude—is mirrored by contemporary Iran’s treatment of its own Jews (and other non-Muslim populations) since 1979. Dhimmitude has been formally re-imposed, and in the case of Jews, complemented by state-supported antisemitism, irrespective of any given regimes “moderation.” Discriminatory liabilities implicit in Iran’s legal code are exploited fully, worsening the plight of Iran’s Jews. These include: the imposition of collective punishment on a Jewish community for an individual act; a “contract of silence” regarding anti-Jewish discrimination and persecution; and an unrelenting campaign of virulent antisemitism openly expressed by the Iranian media, and religious and political hierarchy. Pooya Dayanim, an Iranian Jewish attorney, recently summarized these phenomena:
After the arrest of 13 Jews in Shiraz and Isfahan in March of 1999 on trumped up charges of spying for Israel and the United States, the Iranian Jewish Community leaders inside Iran (Parviz Yeshaya, Manouchehr Eliasi and Maurice Motamed) not only did not inform anyone on the outside world about the situation but became enforcers of silence asking Iranian Jewish leaders outside of Iran to remain silent as well. It was only in July of 1999 that the case was revealed to the world in an exclusive interview granted the BBC by an Iranian Jewish leader based in the United States [home to 65,000 Iranian Jews compared to the ~ 20,000 that still remain in Iran] who feared that the imprisoned Jews faced immediate execution and decided to break his silence and save their lives. However, even during the trial, during which the Iranian Jewish Community knew they had the support of the international media and governments worldwide, statements from the official Iranian Jewish community were very measured, generally limiting themselves to faith that the accused would be treated fairly.
While the Islamic Republic does not guarantee the right of free speech and protest to any of its citizens, the situation, because of the Islamic Law, is considerably worse for the Jews. If an Iranian Muslim criticizes the Islamic Republic, he himself can be punished; if a Jew does it, under the laws of the Islamic Republic his actions may legally affect the well being of the entire Jewish community. Given, moreover, the suspicion in which Jews are generally held because of actual or perceived connections to Israel, the level of intimidation, especially regarding anyone who could be thought to speak for the community in general is extreme. Iranian Jewish leaders in the United States who have been brave enough to speak out have repeatedly been threatened by Iranian agents that their life and the life of their loved ones are in danger because of their decision to speak out and that they should stay silent.
Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader….in March 2001, denied the Holocaust and called the survivors of the death camps “…a bunch of hooligans who emigrated to Palestine.” On May 18, 2001, in a televised speech, Khamenei directly attacked the Jews, calling Jews the enemies of the prophet Mohammad and threatened the Jews with expulsion and expropriation of their property, citing a similar action taken by the prophet Mohammad against the three Jewish tribes in Medina, [during] which they were annihilated. This attack, placed in the context in which the Jews of Iran were still feeling shock of the Shiraz show trials reveals the true feelings of the Islamic Regime toward the Jews of Iran.
The threat of retaliation against the entire community is an ever present factor in the minds of Iranian Jews and all community leaders. The Islamic Republic reminds Iranian Jews of their uncertain fate and future from time to time in speeches that are delivered by the leaders of the regime…There is good reason to believe, therefore, that there is an effective mechanism of intimidation operating against the Iranian Jewish Community, and their refusal to report incidents of severe discrimination and persecution is in itself evidence of the dangerous situation that Jews in Iran live under.
Additional forms of legal and extra-legal discrimination adversely affect criminal proceedings for Jews, and limit their employment and educational opportunities. Even private religious education and observance are hindered, or abused by Iranian authorities to spy upon and threaten Jewish communities, despite continued spurious Western media claims that “…Jews face no restrictions on their religious practice.” Dayanim elaborates on what amounts to a nearly full recrudescence of the system of dhimmitude.
(Legal disabilities) The Jews suffer from official inferior status under Iranian Law and are not protected by police or the courts. The amount of financial compensation a Jew can receive from a Muslim in case of murder or accidental death of a relative is equal to one-eighth of that which would be paid if the victim was a Muslim. In practice this means that a life of a Jew in Iran has very little value. In addition, since Iranian courts routinely refuse to accept the testimony of a Jew against a Muslim, most cases of this sort are not even prosecuted and the police do not even investigate such claims. As a result of their legally inferior status, Jews find themselves outside the protection of the courts and police. This is not simply a perception on their part, but rather, sadly, a harsh reality. In none of the cases of the murder of Jews in Iran has a perpetrator ever been found, much less prosecuted.
(Limitations on employment/business opportunities) Ayatollah Khomeini’s edicts concerning the Jews, published in his book Tozieh Almasael (Explanation of Problems), state clearly that while there is no Islamic law prohibiting a situation in which a Muslim may work under a Jew, this is a shameful situation for a Muslim to be in. These edicts still carry the force of law in Iran, and as a result, Jews have been barred from any position in which they would be superior to Muslims. Jews are excluded from most government positions. Virtually all government entities (most sectors in Iran are government-owned) have a “Muslim only” policy and they print this requirement in their job notices in newspapers. This formal exclusion of Jews from large areas of employment is badly damaging to the Jews.Most private companies, thanks to the anti-Semitic media campaign in Iran, do not hire Jews either. Most Jews are forced into self-employment, but due to general public prejudice, few buy anything from them. The US State Department Religious Freedom Report of 2001 confirms that Jewish businesses have been targets of vandalism and boycotts.
(Limitations on educational opportunities) All Jewish university students must pass a course on Islamic ideology. In general, the professors in these courses are, by definition, very dedicated to their ideology and many Jewish Students that I have interviewed have reported that attending such a course has been a humiliating experience, in which their religion has been ridiculed and trivialized. Jewish students who protest are expelled and blocked from entering the University. Jewish students have also reported that instructors have arbitrarily failed them to block their educational goals. Parents of Jewish elementary and secondary school students, I interviewed in Vienna (processing center for Iranian Jewish refugees) in July of 2002, report frequent verbal and even physical abuse of their children by allegedly anti-Semitic teachers. Iranian “Jewish” schools are forced to stay open on the Jewish Sabbath. Principals of “Jewish” schools in Iran by law must be Muslim and are generally selected based on their Islamic credential.
(Restrictions on private religious practice) Judaism is one of the recognized minority religions in Iran. Jews, therefore, are allowed to conduct religious services and give religious education to their children. The privileges of religious education, can, however, be suspended if it is thought by the authorities that such an education may prevent Jewish children from converting to Islam. Many informed observers believe that one reason that Jewish rabbis and teachers were arrested in Shiraz was the fact that they were instructing in the spirit of Orthodox Judaism. The US State Department Religious Freedom Report for 2001 notes that the Jewish community, and its religious, cultural and social organizations, are closely monitored by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The form that this monitoring has taken is either sending agents to synagogues posing as Jews, or forcing Jewish communal leaders to inform on the activities of the Jewish community. This situation has created an atmosphere of terror and mistrust in the Jewish community. Many Jews who flee Iran relate that they told no one of their plans to emigrate, not even friends or relatives in fear of an unknown collaborator informing authorities of their plans.
Since 1979, the restored Iranian theocracy—in parallel with returning, brutally, their small remnant Jewish community to a state of obsequious dhimmitude, through execution and intimidation—has always focused its obsessive anti-Jewish animus on the autonomous Jewish state of Israel.
Iran’s steadfast pursuit of nuclear weapons may have even accelerated under the “progressive” regime of Muhammed Khatami, who denounced U.S. and European Union demands that Iran sign an agreement to terminate such efforts, transparently and verifiably. An early 2002 report by Michael Rubin warned,
Nearly five years after his first election, Khatami has enacted few if any tangible reforms. Indeed, while many younger Iranians do enjoy some additional flexibility in dress, freedoms have actually declined under the Khatami administration. Khatami has accomplished one important task, though. With a gentle face, soft rhetoric, and numerous trips abroad, Khatami has succeeded in softening the image of the Islamic Republic. No longer is Iran associated with waves of 14-year-olds running across minefields, nor do many Western academics and commentators dwell on Iran’s export of terror, so long as Tehran keeps its assassination squads away from Europe. However, the fundamentals of the regime’ behavior have not changed. Indeed, under Khatami, Iran has accelerated not only its drive for a nuclear capability, but also actively increased its pursuit of chemical and biological weapons, as well as long-range ballistic missiles
Previously, the “Al-Quds Day,” December 14, 2001 sermon of former Iranian President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made clear the purpose of such weapons. During this “pious” address, Rafsanjani, who was also deemed a “moderate” while President, argued that nuclear weapons could solve the “Israel problem”, because, as he observed, “…the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.” Indeed, Rafsanjani was merely reiterating motifs of Jew hatred and jihad martyrdom expressed continuously by his spiritual inspiration, Ayatollah Khomeini. Between 1963 and 1980, for example, Khomeini made these statements:
(1963) Israel does not want the Koran to survive in this country. . . . It is destroying us. It is destroying you and the nation. It wants to take possession of the economy. It wants to demolish our trade and agriculture. It wants to grab the wealth of the country. [Iran]
(1977) The Jews have grasped the world with both hands and are devouring it with an insatiable appetite, they are devouring America and have now turned their attention to Iran and still they are not satisfied.
(1980) We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.
For current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the destruction of Israel is an openly avowed policy, driven by his eschatological beliefs. Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, representative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, summarized this annihilationist eschatology, redolent with Koranic Jew hatred (see Koran 5:82)—which pertains to Jews, generally, not “Zionists”—on November 16, 2006, stating: “The Jew is the most obstinate enemy (Koran 5:82) of the devout. And the main war will determine the destiny of mankind. . . . The reappearance of the Twelfth Imam will lead to a war between Israel and the Shia.”
As characterized in the hadith, Muslim eschatology highlights the Jews’ supreme hostility to Islam. Jews are described as adherents of the Dajjâl—the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ—or according to another tradition, the Dajjâl is himself Jewish. At his appearance, other traditions maintain that the Dajjâl will be accompanied by 70,000 Jews from Isfahan wrapped in their robes, and armed with polished sabers, their heads covered with a sort of veil. When the Dajjâl is defeated, his Jewish companions will be slaughtered— everything will deliver them up except for the so-called gharkad tree (as per the canonical hadith included in the 1988 Hamas Charter, in article 7). Another hadith variant, which takes place in Jerusalem, has Isa (the Muslim Jesus) leading the Arabs in a rout of the Dajjâl and his company of 70,000 armed Jews. And the notion of jihad “ransom” extends even into Islamic eschatology—on the day of resurrection the vanquished Jews will be consigned to Hellfire, and this will expiate Muslims who have sinned, sparing them from this fate.
The rise of Jewish nationalism—Zionism—posed a predictable, if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic order—jihad-imposed chronic dhimmitude for Jews—of apocalyptic magnitude. As historian Bat Ye’or has explained,
…because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.
This is exactly the Islamic context in which the widespread, “resurgent” use of Jew annihilationist apocalyptic motifs—Sunni and Shi’ite alike—would be an anticipated, even commonplace occurrence.
Moshe Sharon recently provided a very lucid summary of the unique features of Shi’ite eschatology, its key point of consistency with Sunni understandings of this doctrine, and Ahmadinejad’s deep personal attachment to “mahdism”:
Since the late ninth century, the Shi’ites have been expecting the emergence of the hidden imam-mahdi, armed with divine power and followed by thousands of martyrdom-seeking warriors. He is expected to conquer the world and establish Shi’ism as its supreme religion and system of rule. His appearance would involve terrible war and unusual bloodshed.
Ahmadinejad, as mayor of Teheran, built a spectacular boulevard through which the mahdi would enter into the capital. There is no question that Ahmadinejad believes he has been chosen to be the herald of the mahdi. [emphasis added]
Shi’ite Islam differs from Sunni Islam regarding the identity of the mahdi. The Sunni mahdi is essentially an anonymous figure; the Shi’ite mahdi is a divinely inspired person with a real identity.
However both Shi’ites and Sunnis share one particular detail about “the coming of the hour” and the dawning of messianic times: The Jews must all suffer a violent death, to the last one. Both Shi’ites and Sunnis quote the famous hadith [Sahih Muslim, Book 40, Number 6985] attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: The last hour will not come unless the Muslims fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and the stone or the tree would say: “Muslim! Servant of Allah! Here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!” Not one Friday passes without this hadith being quoted in sermons from one side of the Islamic world to the other.
Despite an international outcry of condemnation following Ahmadinejad’s statements in late October, 2005 that Israel “…should be wiped off the map,” and “…very soon this stain of disgrace will be purged from the center of the Islamic world,” he continued to express such annihilationist sentiments throughout 2006, while simultaneously referring to the “myth of the Holocaust,” and even sponsoring a December, 2006 Holocaust deniers “conference” in Tehran. Ahmadinejad also recently maintained he has “…a connection with God,” and his genocidal pronouncements have been endorsed by the upper echelons of Iran’s national security establishment. The conclusion that Israel’s eradication has become “Iran’s principal foreign policy objective,” does not seem unwarranted. Finally, Matthias Kuntzel has highlighted the unique dangers posed by Iran’s fusion of a martyrdom mentality, with nuclear weapons capability, and Holocaust denial.