Anti-Zionism and Iranian National Identity
Participants' accounts indicated the gradual development of a national cultural expectation to derogate the State of Israel. They frequently referred to the chant “Death to Israel” which tends to be used alongside “Death to America” in political
rallies in Iran (Molavi, 2005). Their accounts provided some insight into the potential motivations underlying anti-Zionism:
Israel is like the opposite of Iran in a way. It's like everything we are not and we are everything they are not, you know? They are a different kind of people. (Esmail, male, hardliner)
I'm Iranian so I can't like Israel. It just doesn't fit together. It's an anomaly [ … ]
like being a cat who likes dogs, you know? (Bahar, female, hardliner)
Several individuals highlighted the importance of distinctiveness in determining their social representations of Israel. Esmail described Israel as “the opposite” of Iran and emphasised the distinct characteristics of Israel and Iran, respectively. Moreover, he perceived Israelis as “a different kind of people”, suggesting insuperable intergroup difference. This removed any possibility of potential solidarity between the two nations but rather constructed them as being fundamentally opposed to one another. This suggested that, for many individuals, Israel represented Iran's “Signifi Other”, a threatening outgroup which, through intergroup comparisons, provided feelings of distinctiveness (Triandafyllidou, 1998).
Some participants tellingly suggested that it would be incongruous to selfidentify as Iranian, on the one hand, and to accept Israel, on the other. Bahar illustrated this incongruence vividly by employing the simile of a cat liking a dog, which was intended to construct imagery of an “unnatural” union. This appeared to suggest that some individuals maintained their anti-Zionist stance in order to safeguard feelings of distinctiveness, on the one hand, and of psychological coherence, on the other. The acceptance of Israel could induce an “anomaly” in identity. Accordingly, most participants attributed negative characteristics to Israel, which is consistent with the notion that it was perceived as Iran's “Significant Other”. This frequently culminated in assertions of hatred towards the country, as indicated by Arash's observation:
If there's no Israel, whom can we all hate? (Arash, male, hardliner)
I think we've, in Iran, we've come to the point where we need to hate Israel and it would be a surprise if there's suddenly no Israel. Like “where has it gone?” (Maryam, female, reformist)
Crucially, Arash argued that the very existence of Israel provided a target for hatred and that if Israel did not exist Iranians would simply have no outgroup to derogate and to hate. This further demonstrated the importance of distinctiveness as an important motivational principle underlying anti-Zionism, at least partly because of its role in providing a target for outgroup derogation (Triandafyllidou, 1998), itself an important psychological process. As the perceived Significant Other of
Iranians, Israel essentially functioned as a scapegoat for negativity and evil in the world and an external object for directing anger and aggression (Doty et al., 1991). Yet, there was also a strong indication that by hating Israel participants were simply safeguarding their sense of temporal continuity given the perception of a long-standing intergroup rivalry between Iran and Israel. Maryam highlighted the routineness of anti-Israel hatred in Iran, and argued that it would be “a surprise” (perhaps indicating a rupture between past and present) if Israel no longer existed as a target for outgroup derogation. Indeed, the maintenance of anti-Zionism at the institutional level in Iran has been attributed to the human quest for continuity
between past, present and future (Jaspal, 2013a).
Furthermore, anti-Zionism clearly played an important role for self-efficacy, since individuals felt that their vocal anti-Zionist policy symbolised Iran's sovereignty, national integrity and defiance in face of outgroup pressure, namely from “Zionists” and “America”:
Standing up to Israel is what my country is known for and we shouldn't stop this. It sends a good message to the world that we are not the Zionist's slaves or America's slaves. We have control over our own affairs and policies and this is important for our future. (Kianoosh, male, reformist)
“Standing up to Israel” clearly provided some individuals with feelings of pride because they believed that this policy had endowed Iran with the positive reputation of resisting external pressures. This was particularly important in the context of Israel, which has been pervasively represented as a malevolent, yet powerful outgroup in the region (Wistrich, 2010). Given the perception that many countries were unsuccessful in resisting pressure from Israel and the US, individuals derived feelings of distinctiveness from Iran's ability to resist Israel, as well as a strong sense of self-efficacy in maintaining “control over own affairs and policies”. Individuals clearly believed that the future of Iran, namely its continuity, depended upon its ability to function as a self-efficacious and distinctive political entity. Thus, anti-Zionism itself constituted a source of national self-efficacy, which could be projected to “the world”. This was perceived as positive for the ingroup's external image.
In general, anti-Zionism (and by extension, the very existence of Israel) performed important functions for distinctiveness, psychological coherence, selfeffi and continuity in relation to Iranian national identity. Thus, the abandonment of anti-Zionism could potentially deprive individuals of sources of these principles. However, there was some variation in the ways in which self-reported political orientation shaped perceptions of anti-Zionism among respondents.