Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.
In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.
The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.
The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.
While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.
The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.