On September 4, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used Twitter to wish a happy new year to the world’s Jews. “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah,” tweeted Rouhani. Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews—the second largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. “Happy Rosh Hashanah,” wrote Zarif. In ensuing Twitter conversations about the messages, both the president and foreign minister seemed to distance themselves from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
Zarif’s Rosh Hashanah message was only his second tweet on his account, opened on September 2. The tweet sparked a revealing exchange with Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She tweeted that the new year would be “even sweeter” if Zarif would “end Iran’s Holocaust denial.” Zarif, known for a dry sense of humor, tweeted back, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Zarif later confirmed to The Iran Primer that he knew that he was communicating with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s daughter. President Rouhani’s account retweeted Zarif’s reply to Pelosi.
Iran’s Tasnim News Agency then asked the foreign minister about his statements on the Holocaust. Iranians condemn the “killing of Jews by Nazis, as we condemn the killing of Palestinians by the Zionists,” Zarif said. “Judaism is a divine religion that we respect in accordance with the teachings of our religion and our country’s constitution.” He added that Iran’s “Jewish compatriots are a recognized minority” and that they have a representative in parliament. “Jews aren’t our enemies,” Zarif clarified. He also claimed that “Zionists are a minority” among them. “The Zionists for 60 years used the Holocaust as a pretext for all the crimes against the Palestinians,” Zarif told Tasnim. Zarif posted the interview text on his Facebook account.
Zarif and Rouhani’s tweets contrasted starkly with the tone of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly challenged Israel’s right to exist between 2005 and 2013. “We say that this fake regime [Israel] cannot logically continue to live,” Ahmadinejad said at the 2005 World Without Zionism conference in Tehran. “Open the doors (of Europe) and let the Jews go back to their own countries.”