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'We denounce this continued, egregious antisemitism'

US calls out Iran supreme leader for claiming West controlled by ‘Zionist merchants’

Antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt calls latest tweet by Ali Khamenei ‘egregious’ and dangerous for a head of state, with pro-Israel advocates renewing calls to ban his account

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech marking the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, Iran, March 21, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech marking the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, Iran, March 21, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Washington’s antisemitism monitor tore into Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei Thursday after he tweeted that Western powers are a mafia controlled by “Zionist merchants.”

The tweet by Khamenei was far from the first to usher in accusations of antisemitism, and it renewed frustrations among pro-Israel advocates who have long called on Twitter to ban the supreme leader over accusations he engages in hate speech.

“The Western powers are a mafia. The reality of this power is a mafia. At the top of this mafia stand the prominent Zionist merchants, and the politicians obey them. The US is their showcase, and they’re spread out everywhere,” read the tweet from Khamenei, which was posted on Wednesday and remained up on the site as of Friday morning.

On Thursday, Deborah Lipstadt, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism spoke out against the Iranian leader.

“We denounce this continued, egregious antisemitism. This rhetoric is unacceptable – not to mention dangerous – especially from a head of state. It must cease,” she tweeted.

Lipstadt’s jurisdiction is limited to addressing antisemitism outside of the US.

She has used the bully pulpit to condemn Hungarian leader Victor Orban’s remarks in which he expressed an aversion to “becom[ing] peoples of [a] mixed race” in what the Lipstadt said “evokes Nazi racial ideology.”

She also recently called out a member of the ongoing UN Commission of Inquiry into last year’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, after he said social media was “controlled largely by the Jewish lobby.”

As for Khamenei, his own main Twitter account remains active despite Twitter’s rules against hate speech. A user affiliated with the supreme leader’s office was permanently banned in January for posting a video calling for revenge against former United States president Donald Trump over the assassination of Iran’s top general.

Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform. The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

But the policy has been questioned by pro-Israel advocates and a Knesset panel held a hearing on the matter two years ago during which they grilled a top Twitter executive in the country.

Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter’s head of policy for the Nordic countries and Israel, responded by saying that tweets in which Khamenei calls for Israel’s destruction do not violate the company’s rules against hate speech, and indicated that they are considered mere “foreign policy saber-rattling.”

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a conference arranged by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 26, 2022, in Manhattan. (Shahar Azran via JTA)

The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose leadership routinely advocates the elimination of Israel, is considered a leading state sponsor of terror, which openly and proudly supports groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all of which seek to eradicate Israel via terrorist means. In April 2019, the US designated Iran’s own Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

In 2014, Khamenei posted on his Twitter account a nine-point plan explicitly proposing the elimination of Israel.

In May of this year, Khamenei’s Facebook page featured a poster endorsing Israel’s annihilation that invoked the term “final solution,” a phrase used by Nazis for the total destruction of world Jewry. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of calling for the genocide of Jews.

Khamenei in response confirmed he seeks Israel’s destruction but not the annihilation of all Jews and noted that Iran would support any nation or group that fights against Israel. “Eliminating the Zionist regime doesn’t mean eliminating Jews. We aren’t against Jews. It means abolishing the imposed regime & Muslim, Christian & Jewish Palestinians choose their own govt & expel thugs like [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Khamenei wrote on his Twitter account.

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