Headlines blazing across the interwebs in the past 16 hours have made one thing clear: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did in fact say, (after clarifying that he is not a historian), that the Holocaust happened.
“I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect,” Rouhani said. “But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable.”
This is good news. But that this (qualified) utterance is considered proof of Rouhani’s reasonable nature or his humanity or his moderation or validity given that he’s Iran’s second most powerful leader is slightly ridiculous. My high school history teacher seemed neither reasonable nor moderate nor even human at times, but even she was able to say–PhD or no–that the systematic killing of 11 million people including over six million Jews by the Nazis happened without having to dodge the question as Rouhani reportedly did last week in an interview with NBC.
She also wouldn’t have used the Holocaust as a cudgel to delegitimize Israel hours before addressing the United Nations. Here’s how Rouhani followed up his earth-shattering admission.
“This does not mean that on the other hand you can say ‘Nazis committed crimes against a group, now therefore they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it,’” he said. “This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an evenhanded discussion.”
That the establishment of the State of Israel, the product of a political movement that long predates World War II and the physical continuation of a 3,000-year-old Jewish presence there, to Hassan Rouhani is some pernicious quid pro quo by the Jews against the world is a distortion of history. I guess it’s a good thing, then, that Rouhani doesn’t claim to be a historian. He’d be a pretty lousy one.
This is, of course, only one small part of the maneuvering we’re seeing as the so-called Iranian charm offensive continues. It seems vital that the United States and the international community try to make the most of the diplomatic opening Iran has provided by the recent shift in its posture. For a smart look at why we should remain skeptical, see Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece here. Or perhaps consider that Rouhani just called the foundation of a member state in the United Nations “an act that should be condemned.”
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.