Anti-Zionism and Holocaust Revisionism

Antisemitic conspiracy theories were observable in participants' accounts, the most noteworthy of which was the social representation that Jews had either fabricated or greatly exaggerated the Holocaust. While scholars have focused largely upon institutional representations of the Holocaust (Jaspal, 2013a, 2014a; Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009), the present study set out to examine how young Iranians themselves thought and talked about the Holocaust.

In some participants' accounts, it was implied that the Holocaust had been fabricated due to a perceived Jewish-Zionist attempt to inhibit a “scientific” debate on the Holocaust:

I hate Ahmadinejad. I didn't vote for him. I never wanted him. But he came [

… ] The one thing he did do, and it's courageous, he said to the world “Let's talk about the Holocaust”. If Jews have nothing to hide, why hide it? Why do they say “No, we can't discuss this?” Jews in America say it. Zionists say it. (Hooman, male, reformist)

Like Hooman, several participants highlighted their opposition to Ahmadinejad and noted that his policies had caused a destabilisation of the Iranian economy, which constituted a reference to the economic sanctions imposed by the international community. Yet, Hooman commended Ahmadinejad's “courageous” problematisation of the Holocaust and his invitation for critical debate concerning its reality. Statements of this nature suggested that, although there was widespread awareness of the Holocaust, few participants accepted the representation in its entirety and believed that the “truth” had been distorted. Both hardline and reformist participants argued that, regardless of one's personal opinions regarding Ahmadinejad's policies, his ability to “stand up to” the US and Israel by questioning their “version” of the Holocaust was quite admirable. Ahmadinejad's invitation for debate concerning the Holocaust was said to be opposed by Jews and Zionists, suggesting a complicity in seeking to deceive the world about the reality of the
event. Hooman clearly believed that Jewish/Zionist opposition to debating the Holocaust attested to a conspiracy.

It is noteworthy that not all participants were so categorical in their rejection of mainstream Holocaust knowledge. Some individuals did appear to accept the social representation but re-constructed it to varying degrees in order to perform particular rhetorical and psychological functions. For instance, by acknowledging the Holocaust explicitly, some individuals were able to deflect potential accusations of antisemitism from the self:

I do believe the Holocaust happened. Yes. I personally believe this but not all Iranians believe it. Still we shouldn't stop people talking about it scientifically and analysing the data and looking to see what we misinterpreted and what we did correctly. We can know more so Zionists should allow this also. They do not. (Noushin, female, reformist)

Although Noushin stated that she did believe that the Holocaust had taken place, she did acknowledge that there was disbelief among Iranians. While this served to position her in opposition to Holocaust deniers, thereby bolstering self-presentation, she nonetheless acknowledged that there was no unanimous agreement regarding Holocaust knowledge. This enabled her, firstly, to argue that there was a need for greater discussion regarding the Holocaust, not necessarily to disprove existing Holocaust knowledge but rather to explore it “scientifically” and, secondly, to criticise the Zionists' alleged tendency to silence debate regarding the Holocaust. Noushin's account represented a subtle means of questioning existing knowledge regarding the Holocaust and of accusing Zionists of maliciously silencing “scientific” debate. This constituted a means of negativising Zionists, the Significant Other, which through processes of downward comparison was favourable for the self-esteem principle of identity (Jaspal, 2011a).

In reflecting upon the potential reasons underlying the Jews'/Zionists' “silencing” of the Holocaust debate, many respondents argued explicitly that the social representation of the Holocaust sustained Israel's existence:

But I think we need to have a discussion about the Holocaust. If the Holocaust has happened as the Jews say, then why don't they allow us to discuss it? I feel that Israel's existence is based on what they say about this [the Holocaust]. (Saeed, male, hardliner)

Although Saeed did not overtly deny the Holocaust, he did indicate there was a need for “a discussion” about it, implicitly suggesting that not all of the facts regarding the Holocaust had been disclosed. This was attributed to the Jews whom Saeed accused of deliberately silencing debate. This demonstrated the tendency for slippage between the categories “Jew” and “Zionist” in participants' accounts. Like Saeed, many participants regarded emotive social representations of the Holocaust as key to Israel's existence. There was a perception among participants that the
world had been emotionally blackmailed into accepting the existence of Israel and into condoning its actions. Indeed, there is a social representation in Iranian society that the Holocaust somehow exempts Israel from international criticism (Shahvar, 2009), which itself has led to Holocaust denial. Accordingly, individuals argued that Holocaust representations were invoked in order to silence debate and to justify the “extreme” measures undertaken by the Israeli government. There was a sense that, if the “truth” regarding the Holocaust were disclosed to the world, the State of Israel would lose much of its international support and perhaps even its raison d'être. Thus, some individuals did view the Holocaust as a means of destabilising Israel and thereby removing the threat that it was perceived as posing.

Some participants seemed to differentiate between Jews and Zionists, focusing exclusively upon Zionists as a target for delegitimisation. Similarly, Khosrow accused Zionists of having collaborated with the Nazis in their extermination of Jews:

Zionism is a branch of fascism. The Zionists collaborated with the Nazis – there is historical evidence. But this has nothing to do with Jews, just the ones who stood up to them [ … ] They [Jews] just suffered the consequences of this. (Khosrow, male, reformist)

Khosrow delegitimised Zionism by anchoring it to fascism, which essentially generalised the negative social representations of fascism that have accumulated over various decades to Zionist ideology (Litvak and Webman, 2009). This served to crystallise linkage between the two ideologies, encouraging individuals to regard and evaluate Zionism through the same negative lens through which fascism is popularly regarded and evaluated. Khosrow and several other participants elaborated on the linkage between Nazism and Zionism by invoking the polemic social representation that Zionists had covertly collaborated with the Nazis in order to create a moral case for the State of Israel (Litvak and Webman, 2009). This polemic social representation has been widely disseminated by Holocaust revisionists in Europe and in the Middle East (Lipstadt, 1993). Crucially, in demonising Zionists, participants indicated that non-Zionist Jews were innocent and themselves had “suffered the consequences of this [Nazi-Zionist alliance]”. Khosrow argued that the Nazis did not massacre Zionist Jews but rather those Jews who opposed Zionist ideology, which positioned Zionism in opposition to Judaism. Accordingly, non-Zionist Jews were shielded from the negative social representations attributed to Zionism.

More generally, this constituted a means of problematising social representations of the Holocaust, due primarily to the re-construal and re-attribution of blame. Participants perceived Zionists as the key perpetrators of the Holocaust – the Nazis were conversely represented as the “assassins” sent by the Zionists. This challenged the social representation that Nazis masterminded the Holocaust and, conversely, constructed the representation that Zionism, the ideology that underpins the State of Israel, led to the Holocaust. It may be that some participants were more aware of
the sensitivity in world public opinion to antisemitism and the relative acceptability of anti-Zionism, which could have motivated them to craft accounts that nominally delegitimised Zionists, in particular. Yet, as Shahvar (2009) has argued, while a Jew in Tehran may be “tolerated”, “once the very same Jew steps into Israel [either physically or metaphorically], he becomes immediately 'a Zionist conspirator', 'an Israeli oppressor', a person who has to be fought with whatever means” (p.103). This was clearly exemplifi by the tendency among some participants to shield Jews from negative social representations attributed to Zionism.

The social desirability of shielding Jews, an ethno-religious group, from negative social representations of Zionism, a political category, was observable in several individuals' accounts. However, there was constant slippage between the categories that were employed in order to describe the perpetrators of Holocaust fabrication/ exaggeration. Participants shifted between the categories “Jew” and “Zionist”, suggesting that these were interchangeable groups that had collectively engaged in deceit:

I do think the Holocaust did happen. Yes, people died. 6 million Jews? No, I don't think so. I think that's a lie and it's been successful. The Jews got their state. I'm not against it. But I think this is why they got their country. This is Zionism. They made the world feel bad for them. (Roya, female, reformist)

I don't have any problem with Jews [ … ] My best friend at university was Jewish [ … ] I can't understand why the Holocaust is so important that countries forbid you to ask questions about this so it seems like the Jews, the Zionists, they are all the same, they want to hide something, I think. (Afsane, female, reformist)

Although some individuals did acknowledge the Holocaust, as Roya did, they nonetheless regarded it as a gross exaggeration in order to elicit the world's sympathy and thereby facilitate Zionist activities. More specifically, the social representation of the Holocaust was perceived as central to Israel's existence. Although participants attributed this social representation to the Jews, the act of deceiving the world and of establishing the Jewish State on the basis of a “lie” was referred to as Zionism. The category “Jew” was attributed to the population, while the category “Zionism” was employed in order to describe the ideological process underlying the establishment of Israel. In short, there was a conflation of these categories. Roya's insistence on Jewish deception of the world served to construct the foundations of Israel as being morally dubious, thereby delegitimising the State of Israel. Superficially, Roya argued that she did not oppose the State of Israel perhaps in order to present herself not as a stakeholder in the debate on Israel and Zionism but rather as a “neutral” actor. Yet, from this apparently neutral position, she was able to denigrate Zionism, Israel and the Jews in a more convincing manner. It is noteworthy that all participants acknowledged and, in most cases, lamented the negative publicity that Iran had acquired due to its antiZionist (and, in some cases, antisemitic) activity, given the negative impact that
this had had on Iran's international image and, consequently, on participants' selfesteem on the basis of their national group membership. Roya and others clearly wished to deflect such negative publicity from the self and therefore asserted their indifference to the State of Israel.

Similarly, Afsane argued that she in no way opposed the Jews and that she in fact had a close Jewish friend, thereby deflecting potential accusations of antisemitism which may ensue from her subsequent questioning of the reality of the Holocaust. In addition to diminishing the importance of the Holocaust as an attempt to systematically annihilate an entire ethno-religious group, Afsane argued that the sensitivity around “asking questions about” the Holocaust (a euphemism for questioning its reality) must indicate a covert Jewish strategy to “hide something” (namely, the notion that the Holocaust never happened at all). In short, despite prefixing their arguments with discursive disclaimers that they in no way opposed Israel or Jews (Potter and Wetherell, 1987), several participants provided accounts which clearly reflected a demonisation of both the Jewish people (who were represented as fabricators of the Holocaust myth) and Zionist ideology.

The tendency to question or deny existing Holocaust knowledge allowed individuals in the study to position themselves as distinctively knowledgeable, which enhanced their sense of distinctiveness. Moreover, the Islamic Republic's distinctively vocal questioning of the Holocaust seemed to bolster feelings of self-effi , since individuals believed that this evidenced Iran's independence, autonomy and competence on the international stage. More generally, by questioning the reality of the Holocaust, some individuals were able to derive a sense of meaning by explaining how the Jews, a historically “inferior” people in the minds of many participants, were able to establish and defend the State of Israel.

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