So much for the moderation that $100 billion in sanctions relief and new investment was supposed to usher in inside Iran. The Islamic Republic News Agency has announced a new Holocaust cartoon contest theoretically meant to practice free speech but, in reality, meant to belittle and ridicule the murder of Jews. After all, if the Islamic Republic truly cared about free speech, it would not invest millions of dollars to hunt down and imprison those who traded jokes about the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on social media.

The only surprise is that anyone would be surprised by the latest Iranian antics. To be surprised is to be ignorant of the true character of the Islamic Republic and the leaders who serve and defend it. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is no moderate. He has always been the regime’s “Mr. Fix-It” and is a true believer in Khomeini’s ideology. He may have reduced the numbers of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps veterans serving in his cabinet, but he replaced them with Ministry of Intelligence veterans, in effect, selecting a KGB cabinet.

The reality is that while politicians noticed Iranian Holocaust denial under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, such animosity toward Jews — whose population in Iran has declined by 80 percent since the Islamic Revolution — and the lionization of the Holocaust predates Ahmadinejad. While Ahmadinejad proudly questioned the Holocaust, his predecessor Mohammad Khatami spoke to diplomats about dialogue while simultaneously inviting to Tehran Holocaust revisionists such as Gerald Fredrick Töben, a German expatriate in Australia, to lecture about how the Auschwitz death camp was too small to orchestrate the mass killing of Jews. Khatami also granted asylum to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. In effect, for Khatami, “Dialogue of Civilizations” was at its core a meeting of minds between proponents of Iran’s system of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurists) and the worst elements among Neo-Nazis and racists.

Prior to President Barack Obama, U.S. presidents sought to differentiate between the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people but Obama changed that formula in his 2009 Nowruz address. Perhaps he truly believed that the Iranian leadership was moderate. Obama — and later Secretary of State John Kerry — have long been guilty of projection when confronting adversaries. But after so much subsequent time and interaction, neither naïveté nor ignorance can be excused. Obama, Kerry, and their close-knit circle of advisors certainly understand the radicalism, racism, and anti-Semitism at the heart of the Islamic Republic but chose to engage, trust, and enrich the regime anyway.  That decision reflects not only on the judgment of Kerry and his team, but also their character. Kerry may seek a Nobel Prize and his aides might seek promotion, but their true legacy will be the empowerment of what after North Korea remains one of the world’s most unrepentant and odious regimes.

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