There have been many calls recently from various quarters not to take Iran so seriously. The theory is that it is all bluster and rhetoric. Firstly, let us say as Jews we have heard that excuse too many times in our history and sadly believed it. Secondly, there is something strange in the obsession Iran has with Israel and Jews.
A good opinion piece in the New York Times called 'The Ghost of Purim Past' by Jeffrey Goldberg shows that this is no mere rhetoric. Also, interestingly and contrary to what many think, Iran ties Jews, Zionists and Israelis altogether.
Three years ago, while visiting Tehran, I was introduced to a charmless man named Muhammad Ali Samadi, who, I was told, would parse for me the Iranian theocracy's peculiar understanding of Judaism and Zionism. Mr. Samadi said that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, held no brief for anti-Semitism. Then, a moment later, he deployed an epidemiological metaphor to explain the role of Jews in history. "There are always infections and diseases in man," he said. "In the world there is an infection called international Jewry."
A year later, Mr. Samadi became the spokesman for the Esteshadion, or Seekers of Martyrdom, a group that has as its mission the training of young Iranians to kill Salman Rushdie, commit acts of suicide terrorism against Americans in Iraq and blow up Jews everywhere. "The Zionists should know that they aren't safe so long as they are an affront to God," he said. I asked him if, by "Zionists," he meant Israelis or, more generally, Jews. "Jews, Zionists, Israelis," he said, only semi-ambiguously.
I was not visiting Iran in order to collect the anti-Semitic leavings of second-tier terrorists, though I did buy a knapsack's worth of Jew-obsessed pamphlets and books, including a copy of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in Persian. I was in Iran mainly to cross over into Iraq, whose dictator was about to be deposed by the United States Army. Saddam Hussein had once promised to "make fire burn half of Israel" Â and he tried, ineffectually, to do so in the 1991 gulf war.
The terminology of disease control has now thoroughly infiltrated anti-Semitic discourse in the Middle East. Four years ago, a Hezbollah leader in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley named Hussein Haj Hassan told me that Jews function "in a way that lets them act as parasites in the nations that give them shelter." The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad speak in much the same manner.
One worries about overreacting, but such language echoes the passage of "Mein Kampf" in which the Austrian Haman compares the Jew to "a sponger who like a noxious bacillus keeps spreading as soon as a favorable medium invites him."
Nevertheless, a great many people, in Iran and beyond, believe that the Jewish state is a cancer, and it is foolish to believe that this is an idea without consequences. As one Islamic Jihad leader told me not long ago, "Everyone knows that the cure for cancer is radiation."