MECCA, Saudi Arabia – Iran’s hard-line president, who once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” again sparked a barrage of international criticism Thursday, saying the Jewish state should be moved to Europe and questioning whether the Holocaust took place.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied that European countries backed the founding of Israel in the Middle East in 1948 out of guilt over the Nazi genocide.
“Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps,” Ahmadinejad said. “Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that is taken to prison or gets condemned.”
“Let’s assume what the Europeans say is true. … Let’s give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria,” he said. “They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?”
Israel condemned Ahmadinejad’s remarks as “outrageous and even racist.” The United States denounced them as “appalling and reprehensible.”
Both Israel and Washington cited Iran’s hostility toward Israel as a reason why the Iranian theocracy must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad has been unapologetic about taking Iran on a more openly defiant course, insisting on Iran’s right to develop its nuclear program – which it insists is peaceful – and often using rhetoric reminiscent of the 1980s heyday of the Islamic Revolution.
But he has alienated even some conservative allies in Iran, who feel he is taking a go-it-alone stance in domestic politics and hurting Iran abroad with his comments. In an unusual slap to the Iranian leader, his allies in parliament have rejected his proposed candidates for oil minister three times.
His remarks Thursday were even more striking for their venue: a summit of Muslim nations in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, convened to condemn terrorism and extremism and stressing the themes of moderation and tolerance.
Speaking at a news conference on the summit sidelines, he said most Jews in Israel “have no roots in Palestine, but they are holding the destiny of Palestine in their hands and allow themselves to kill the Palestinian people.”
Ahmadinejad raised a similar storm in October when he called Israel a “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.” Still, Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June with the backing of Iran’s hard-line clerical rulers, stuck by the comments, and his government organized a series of large anti-Israel demonstrations.