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Home arrow Sociology arrow Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism Representation

Case Studies: Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism among Iranians and British Pakistani Muslims

In this book, it is suggested that, when antisemitism and anti-Zionism are transformed into a systematic ideology and politicised and institutionalised, these forms of hostility can acquire a more dangerous and potentially destructive action orientation. They cease to function solely as cultural or cognitive phenomena, but rather induce and encourage negative patterns of interpersonal and intergroup relations at a large scale. Although there have been numerous studies of antisemitism as a general construct, there has been only scant research into antisemitism and anti-Zionism among Muslim groups (Kressel, 2003). This book focuses upon the institutionalisation and public manifestation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where anti-Zionism, imbued with antisemitic tenets, is a state policy; and in the context of British Pakistani Muslims, who reside in a national context where anti-Zionism has acquired considerable credibility and traction but where the overt expression of antisemitism remains socially stigmatised. The two case studies, selected from many possible others, will provide insight into the diversity and complexity of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, in addition to their unifying tenets. However, these case studies cannot possibly speak for all Muslims and there is no intention to do so in this book. Rather, the analysis of these case studies should highlight the convergences, divergences and complexities of antisemitism and anti-Zionism among two under-explored groups.

The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran espouses an official policy of anti-Zionism, which is frequently punctuated with blatant antisemitism. Unlike most other countries in the Middle East, Iran openly endorses antisemitism, principally in the form of Holocaust denial, which it incorporates into its anti-Zionist program (Litvak, 2006). Küntzel (2010, p. 43) compellingly argues that “no other regime in the world is as anti-Semitic as that of the Mullahs in Tehran” (see also Litvak and Webman, 2010). Shiite Islam, which is the state religion of Iran, has a long history of radical antisemitism. For instance, even until the nineteenth century, there were harsh social restrictions on Iranian Jews, who were, at best, regarded as secondclass citizens – they were subjected to pogroms and forced conversions to Shiite Islam and have remained a discreet religious minority in contemporary Iran
(Shahvar, 2009). During the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925–79), Iranian Jews enjoyed a short interval of social prosperity, and the Imperial State of Iran enjoyed diplomatic and strategic relations with Israel (Levy, 1999; Menashri, 1991).

However, from the 1960s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the future Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, publicly denounced and demonised the Jews, referring to them as inter alia “infidels” and “impure creatures” (Khomeini, 1981). The Shah of Iran who was to be deposed in the 1979 Iranian Revolution was referred to as a “Jew in disguise” and a “Zionist agent”, accusations which gained traction amid the revolutionary fervour of 1970s Iran. In the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the newly established Islamic Republic severed Iranian-Israeli bilateral relations and withdrew its recognition of Israel (Menashri, 2000). Iran has continuously supported Palestinian sovereignty over the whole of present-day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, while periodically calling for the destruction of the Jewish State. It systematically refers to Israel by demeaning terms such the “Zionist regime” and “Occupied Palestine”, and positions both Israel and Jews as posing a threat to Iran, Muslims, and the world more generally (Jaspal, 2013a). Iran's clerics and politicians have consistently denounced Israel, questioning its legitimacy as a sovereign state and, at times, calling for its destruction (Takeyh, 2006).

Although the Islamic regime attempts to differentiate between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, the underlying antisemitic agenda frequently surfaces. This is manifested subtly through the interchangeable use of the categories “Jew” and “Zionist” in political discourse (Shahvar, 2006) and, more overtly, through the Iranian regime's blatant denial of the Holocaust (Jahanbegloo, 2007; Litvak, 2006). It is true that many Middle Eastern countries are deeply anti-Zionist and sometimes overtly antisemitic (Litvak and Webman, 2010). However, there are several important reasons for focusing upon the case study of the Iranian national

context, in particular.

• Firstly, the Iranian regime is unique in overtly subscribing to a hybrid antiZionist and antisemitic political agenda (Litvak, 2006). Incidentally, this justifies the scholarly consideration of both anti-Zionism and antisemitism in social representations disseminated by the regime.

• Secondly, Iran presents a unique demographic situation, since it constitutes the Muslim country with the highest Jewish population of approximately 25,000–30,000 according to recent estimates (Burke, Maxwell and Shearer, 2012; Sarshar, 2014; Yeroushalmi, 2013). Thus, while Iran's anti-Zionism/antisemitism clearly impinges upon international relations, it also has implications for the Jewish community within its own borders (Küntzel, 2005).

Thirdly, the Islamic regime is the most vociferous critic of Israel, repeatedly calling for its destruction and for the displacement of its people. Although both “conservative” and “moderate” presidents have been elected in Iran, the official stance on Israel has remained largely the same – a policy of
non-recognition (Katz and Hendel, 2012). It is interesting to consider the social psychological motives potentially underlying anti-Zionism and antisemitism given that Iran has never engaged in military conflict or border or economic disputes with Israel.

• Fourthly, Iran is a context in which overt anti-Zionism is socially normative and expected in the general population – indeed, any recognition or contact with Israel is prohibited. There are several writings on anti-Zionism at the institutional level in Iran (Jaspal, 2013a; Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009). However, in the absence of systematic empirical research into social perceptions among the Iranian general population, it is important to examine how antisemitism and anti-Zionism are regarded and manifested by Iranians themselves and how such representations feature in their everyday thinking and talk.

In addition to the socio-historical research that has examined antisemitism and antiZionism in Iran (e.g. Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009), there has been little systematic research into the Iranian media's portrayal of Israel (Jaspal, 2013c; Klein, 2009) and even less empirical research into perceptions of Jews and/or Israel in the Iranian general population (Jaspal, 2011c). Media research is important because it can elucidate the relationship between political and media discourses in Iran, given that there is already considerable knowledge about the Iranian political perspectives on Israel (and, in some cases, Jews) (Shahvar, 2009). Crucially, research into the Iranian media can shed light on how representations of Israel and Jews are disseminated to both the Iranian readership, and in the case of the English-language Iranian Press, how Iran attempts to “export” its ideology beyond its own borders. Even in an overtly anti-Zionist context like Iran, where Holocaust denial is rife, there is a clear desire to avoid overt antisemitic prejudice which is stigmatised in contemporary Western society. Thus, in accordance with the notion of “new antisemitism” (see Chapter 3), Iran tends to refer to the Jewish state rather than to the Jewish people. Having considered the motifs and representations that have permeated antisemitic discourses and thinking, one can examine subtle invocations of antisemitic motifs in the media's representations of Israel (see Chapter 5). In other words, close attention to the discursive aspects of media representations is important because this can eludicate how Iran represents what it does.

The Iranian media may constitute a source of representations concerning Jews and Israel, but in the absence of major social sciences empirical research into Iranian social attitudes it is difficult to ascertain the clout of the media in shaping social perceptions. As outlined in the next two chapters, there is some emerging social sciences research into Arab and Muslim public perceptions of Jews and Israel, but none which takes a qualitative approach. The research that does exist tends to be quantitative, generating tendencies and, in some cases, statistical patterns in public perception. While this is useful, there is clearly a need to examine qualitative accounts of Jews and Israel in order to provide detailed,
nuanced, and contextually sensitive insights into the social psychological aspects of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

 
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