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Antisemitic Conspiracies are a "Fiction" to Distract: Iran's Week in Hate Speech

December 15, 2023
Saleem Vaillancourt
5 min read
IranWire's analysis of the Tasnim post found that its formulation in Persian conflated the Israeli government's war policy with the Israeli people – a formulation that can spread disinformation against Israelis and Jewish people
IranWire's analysis of the Tasnim post found that its formulation in Persian conflated the Israeli government's war policy with the Israeli people – a formulation that can spread disinformation against Israelis and Jewish people

Hate speech may start with words but it can end in more than just tears – it can end with violence and even death. IranWire's "Iran's Week in Hate Speech" series tracks Persian-language social media posts and articles targeting religious groups in Iran with derogatory language, conspiracy theories and calls for violence. Our tracking is not exhaustive: we focus on influencers and websites with large followings and wide reach. The series is designed to inform the general public and to help social media companies exercise their responsibility to monitor and remove hate speech on their channels.

Iranian state media used American divisions over the Israel-Hamas conflict this week as a springboard for its latest wave of antisemitic hate speech online.

The Tasnim News Agency, a semi-official outlet linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published a Twitter/X post to its 284,380 followers highlighting a podcast interview by the US conservative commentator Candace Owens with political scientist Norman Finkelstein and his attack on Israel's war in the Gaza Strip. Finkelstein – who is Jewish, the son of Holocaust survivors, and an outspoken critic of Israel – said that Israel was pursuing a policy of "mowing the lawn" of Gaza by killing thousands including children.

IranWire's analysis of the Tasnim post found that its formulation in Persian conflated the Israeli government's war policy with the Israeli people – a formulation that can spread disinformation against Israelis and Jewish people.

Drawing attention to American social and political divisions, spreading disinformation regarding these issues and using them to entrench ideological sentiments within Iran is a longstanding practice by Iranian propagandists.

The Tasnim post was one of 62 instances of antisemitic hate speech tracked by IranWire over the past week. IranWire's monitoring measures posts by influential accounts with large audiences or wide reach – not all examples of Persian hate speech online. Antisemitic social media posts were published to almost 300,000 direct followers over the past week.

And after two weeks of declining proportions of antisemitic content, as measured against other forms of hate speech such as anti-Baha'i or anti-Sunni content, IranWire observed a sharp jump in antisemitic material during this week. More than 78 percent of the posts IranWire tracked this week targeted Jews and Israelis with hate speech, disinformation and calls for violence.

Each of these posts relies on the same antisemitic tropes monitored by IranWire for weeks and are familiar to observers of hate speech. One post on X called Zionists "dirty and deceitful," publishing this to their 34,513 followers, as did another for its 39,613 followers, and one post equated Judaism with "Satanism" for over 20,000 followers online. Another comment accused Jews of sexual violence while also attacking the Taliban. Several posts combined anti-Israeli hate speech with content that targeted the Sufi Yamani group or the Kurdish-Iranian minority. And a post reaching almost 19,000 followers combined antisemitic, anti-Arab and anti-American sentiment when it published a cartoon depicting a rocket attack by Iran-allied Yemeni Houthis on the Arab world and the United States.

Eleven media pieces published by state-linked Iranian outlets, meanwhile, including Fars News, Mehr News and the Islamic Republic News Agency, reached more than 7.7 million Iranians over the past seven days. Last week IranWire tracked similar articles that reached 5.7 million people, or about six percent of Iran's population; this week's increase had a reach of about 8 percent of all Iranians in the country.

The articles covered a wide range of antisemitic tropes and conspiracies. Mehr News quoted Seyyed Hassan Ameli, the Friday prayer leader in the city of Ardabil, who said Israel has "plowed" the whole of Gaza and then targeted the US Secretary of State Anthony of Blinken for his Jewish background. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Hosseini Kohsari, Iran's international vice president of religious seminaries, calling the Israeli government "barbaric" and claiming that "Zionists" believed the establishment of the state of Israel would herald the apocalypse. A second IRNA article accused Israeli authorities of wanting to bury Palestinian prisoners alive.

Professor David Feldman, a University of London expert on antisemitism in Europe, Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and one of the authors of the 2020 Jerusalem Declaration, a reference tool for defining and responding to antisemitism hate speech and crimes, joined IranWire for a brief discussion on the consequences for a society when state officials and organs propagate antisemitic hate speech.

"In Europe, in western Europe in particular, elites and the state are mobilized against antisemitism. But in Iran, there are parts of the political and social elite and parts of the state which promote antisemitism. It has a different character … antisemitism [in Iran] is connected with political and religious and social authority, whereas in central and western Europe it's connected with the radicalism of the left or the radicalism of the far right, rather than with establishment voices."

The roots of antisemitism can be found in the 19th century and further back, Professor Feldman says, with the term itself appearing in the 1880s when German social actors reacted against the equal rights granted to Jews by the 1871 German Empire.

Professor Feldman also notes that negative and aggressive sentiments targeting Jews stretch back hundreds and even thousands of years. A number of early Christians believed their faith "superseded" Judaism and that the Jewish faith no longer served any purpose. In the Middle Ages, Jews were seen as "materialistic" money-lenders and were accused of profiting through usury, and were believed to be a "malignant" and "evil, conspiratorial" group that was conspiring against the common good. Many of these tropes appear in IranWire's weekly tracking.

"Antisemitism is problematic for Jews in obvious ways," Professor Feldman says, referring also to the "history of Holocaust denial that has come out of Iran" under the Islamic Republic. And propagating antisemitic tropes is "problematic for society because it focuses attention and energy on a fictional problem," he adds. "When people talk in antisemitic ways, they are sometimes trying to address a problem in the real world, whether it's the injustices faced by Palestinians or the inequalities generated globally by capitalism. But they do so in ways that evade the true causes" of these problems.

Seven anti-Sunni posts were tracked in total by IranWire this week, as well as six anti-Baha'i posts, and a handful of anti-Christian and anti-Zoroastrian posts. One of the anti-Baha'i posts, reaching about 2,000 followers on X, accused the Baha'is of carrying out the 1978 "Black Friday" Jaleh Square massacre in which about 100 people were shot and killed by the military of the former Pahlavi government.



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