January 25, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 922

The Image Of The Jew In The Eyes Of Iran's Islamic Regime – Part I: Theological Roots

January 25, 2013 | By A. Savyon and E. Zigron*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 922


This paper, the first in a series on the image of the Jew in the eyes of the Islamic regime in Iran, will focus on the reinterpretation by spokesmen for Iran's Islamic regime of Koranic verses and traditions (Hadith) regarding encounters between the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula and the Prophet Muhammad, and how this reinterpretation lays the theological and psychological groundwork for the regime in condemning the Jews and Judaism.

Officially, the Iranian regime distinguishes between Judaism as a religion, which it says is legitimate, and Zionism, which it says is the embodiment of the national Jewish idea and must be uprooted. Senior regime officials boast of the freedom of worship afforded to the Jews in Iran, and maintain that their anti-Zionist statements are not against Jews or their religion but an expression of legitimate revulsion at Zionism and the State of Israel. For example, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast explained his statement that "we have no problem with the Jews, but only with the Zionists"[1] by saying that the regime respects all the monotheistic religions, including Judaism, but calls for fighting Zionism.[2] Similarly, Friday preacher Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said on Qods (Jerusalem) Day this year (August 17, 2012): "We differentiate between the Jews who live in Iran, who are law-abiding and participate in Qods Day, and the Zionists, whose history attests to their murderous nature."[3]

Despite these claims by the regime, it is possible to identify anti-Semitic messages coming from senior officials and from the major Iranian media. These messages typically denounce Jews at large, attribute to them unique negative characteristics, and depict them as an eternal force for evil and the root of evil in the world since ancient times – perceptions which have their theological and psychological roots in early Islamic traditions. For example, in his August 31, 2012 sermon, Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Emami Kashani stated, "The traditions command the believers to strike the Jews, and promise that the day will come when the Jews will seek refuge and shelter."[4]

This paper will focus on the main trends under the Islamic regime in Iran regarding Jews and Judaism: a) the laying of the ideological infrastructure for demonizing Jews and Judaism, and 2) the creation of a parallel between the seventh-century Battle of Khaybar and today's Arab-Israeli conflict – leading to Iran's call for the actions of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers at that battle to be used as a model for resolving the current situation.

Ideological Infrastructure For Demonizing The Jew In Iran

Since the Shi'a was declared the religion of the Safavi state (1501-1722), and especially since the 17th century under the Qajar dynasty, the Jews in Iran were harshly persecuted and had many restrictions imposed on them; this was justified by Twelver Shi'a religious perceptions and precepts considering the Jews sinful and inferior.[5] Over the years, the image of the Jew underwent a transformation from merely inferior, sinful and unclean to possessing great evil powers. This transformation gained momentum under the father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei; his brand of religious thought stressed that the Jews were the "embodiment of evil," "a deceitful and ingenious group" that strove for "Jewish dominance" over the Muslims. He insisted that "this [Jewish] policy continues in our time... They see the destruction of Islam as an essential step in actualizing their goals."[6]

This demonization of Jews continues today, under the guidance of Iran's Islamic regime; characteristic of this process today is the reinterpretation of Koranic verses and Islamic traditions concerning the seventh-century struggle between the Prophet Muhammad and the Jews in such a way as to highlight the centrality of the Jews and portray them as an evil and dangerous group that has attempted to harm Islam from its very beginnings and has always been the greatest enemy of Islam.

Various Iranian spokesmen use the new interpretations of Koranic verses and Islamic traditions to prove that the Jews have ingrained negative characteristics and are eternally scheming against the Muslims. They also point to the tremendous power of the Jew who dared to stand against the Prophet of Islam.

Presenting The Seventh-Century Battle Of Khybar As A Parallel Of The Arab-Israeli Conflict – And As A Model For Resolving It

The Iranian regime heads are presenting today's geopolitical Arab-Israeli conflict as the continuation of the seventh-century religious conflict in the Arabian Peninsula between the Jews and the Prophet Muhammad, using Muhammad's expulsion and extermination of the Jews of Khybar as a model for what should be done to the Jews today.[7]

The following are examples of the reinterpretation by Iranian officials and media of Koran verses and Islamic traditions, and how these are being used in Iran in a campaign against the Jews and Judaism in order to lay the conceptual groundwork for antisemitism:

University Lecturer Rajbi-Davani: Since Islam Began, The Jews Have Tried To Destroy It

On March 10, 2012, the Student Basij website published statements by Dr. Mohammad-Hossein Rajabi-Davani, a lecturer at Imam Hossein University in Tehran. Speaking at the 13th of a series of meetings on historical research on Islam at a cultural center, Davani stressed the role that the Jews had played during the dawn of Islam, depicting them as opponents of Islam and its Prophet and explaining that they had sought to destroy both.

The Jews' First Action To Destroy Islam Was To Mock It

At the meeting, Davani said that the first action taken by the Jews with the aim of destroying Islam was to mock it, particularly its lack of a written text in its early days. He said that the Jews "came to the mosque and mocked the practices of the Muslims... to the point where the Prophet ordered them removed from the mosque... The Jews boasted before the Muslims... saying, 'Unlike you, we have a holy book.' At that time, only half of the Koran had been revealed; it did not exist in written form and the Muslims preserved the verses that had been revealed [by word of mouth]. So the Jews said, 'Our God preferred us and gave us the divine book, while you have no divine book.'"

Davani added: "The Jews also said, 'God preferred us to you [Muslims], and set for us one day of the week (the Sabbath) as a holiday'... [So] God gave [Muslims] the Friday sura, in response and in order to neutralize [the Jews'] psychological manipulation [of the Muslims]. That is why Friday was set as the weekly holiday for Muslims... because this day precedes the Jews' holiday."

The Jews' Anti-Islam Poetry Insulted Islam And Muslims

Davani continued: "Anti-Islam poetry was [another of the Jews'] activities in their struggle against Islam... After the crushing defeat at the Battle of Badr, a Jewish poet from the Banu Nadir tribe, Ka'b bin Ashraf, began hating Islam, and while on a journey to Mecca wrote several poems insulting Islam and Muslims. His poems rapidly reached the city of Medina, and angered the Muslims... Muhammad turned to the Muslims and asked: 'Who can lessen Ka'b's evil?' Ka'b's adopted brother, Muhammad bin Maslama, volunteered to do so. Going to [Ka'b's] home together with several Muslims, and under the pretext of purchasing goods, [the Muslims] pulled him out of his place of residence and killed him. That is how the Jews lost one of their most important tools..."

The Jewish Banu Qaynuqa', Banu Nadir, And Banu Qurayza Tribes All Fought Islam

"The first Jewish group [to fight the Muslims] was the Banu Qaynuqa' tribe. One day in the blacksmiths' marketplace [in the city of Medina], a Jew from the Banu Qaynuqa' tribe harassed and harmed a Muslim woman. The woman asked for help, and a Muslim passerby attacked and killed [the Jew]. [In response,] the Jews killed the Muslim, and immediately closed their shops and hid in their strongholds. [As a result,] the Prophet said: They violated the contract [we have with them], and therefore their place is no longer in Medina. The Prophet gave them two weeks to leave Medina, but the hypocrites [within the Muslim camp] promised to help them, and for this reason they [the Banu Qaynuqa'] did not leave the city...

"Thus, the battle of the Banu Qaynuqa' broke out. The Muslims surrounded the [Jews'] strongholds, and a few days later, the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa' surrendered and were willing [to accept] exile from Medina. But the Prophet said: I will accept [this] provided that your assets are confiscated. As a result, they left humiliated, and since that time, there is no trace in Jewish history of the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa'. These events took place in the second year of the Hijra.

"In the fourth year of the Hijra, the Jews of Banu Nadir – that is, the most evil of the Jewish tribes – and Islam met face to face. That year, a great tragedy befell Islam: A group of Muslim preachers (40 or 70) were murdered by the leader of the Banu 'Amer tribe, in cooperation with the Banu Salim tribe. One preacher, 'Amru bin Amia Ibn Khamri, was left alive... and he reported [on what happened] to the Prophet... The Jews of Banu Nadir were allied with the Banu 'Amer, [and therefore] the Prophet went with several Muslims to the strongholds of the Banu Nadir. They promised to help, but quickly called a meeting and said, 'This is a one-time opportunity to meet the Prophet alone,' and decided to kill him.

"[As] the Prophet sat by the wall [of one] stronghold, they [the Banu Nadir] wanted to throw round [rocks] from the roof [on him] and then present his death as an accident. But the Prophet was informed of [their plan] by the Angel Gabriel, who saved his life. After this incident, the Prophet returned to Medina and gave the Jews of Banu Nadir two weeks to leave [the city]. But like the Banu Qaynuqa', they remained. When the ultimatum expired, the army of Islam moved on the [Banu Nadir] strongholds... and following a lengthy siege, the Banu Nadir said, 'We are willing to leave Medina.' The Prophet forgave them and allowed each family to take one camel-load of its belongings. They loaded everything they could on their camels... and left Medina.

"The Jews left Medina, but their evil did not lessen... Some went to Khaybar. After some time, [the Jews] managed to take control of Khaybar, and because they hated Islam, they made [Khaybar] the home base of their struggle against Islam. They acted to bring other Jews [into their fight], from the Hejaz regions... The Jewish danger was a constant threat to Islam.

"The third confrontation between Islam and the Jews was with the Banu Qurayza tribe. Seeing the fate of the other two tribes, the Banu Qurayza took care to remain uninvolved, but the Banu Nadir brought them in [to the conflict]. The Jews of Banu Nadir said: If we bring them [the Banu Qurayza] in with us, Islam will fall. One night they followed [the Banu Qurayza to persuade them to join them]. At first, the Banu Qurayza did not accept [the offer], but in negotiations [with the Banu Qurayza], the Banu Nadir proved to them that Islam would clearly fall [if they joined forces]. They told them: If [you join us and we fight] together, the fall [of Islam] will come more quickly, and if you do not, you will be harmed… [Ultimately], it was determined that [the two tribes] would launch trench warfare.

"Having learned of their treacherous nature, the Prophet sent 700 of his 3,000 soldiers to fight them… Following afternoon prayers… the Angel Gabriel descended and said: Anyone who loves God and His Messenger must say afternoon and evening prayers near the Banu Qurayza's strongholds...

"A wise [Jew] suggested [to his fellow Jews]: We know that [Muhammad] is a Prophet... let us believe in him. But [the Jews] rejected this. A second suggestion was made: The Muslims know that we observe the Sabbath; let us attack [them] on Sabbath eve, when they are unprepared. But this suggestion was also rejected. A third suggestion was: [Let us] kill our own women and children... If we remain alive, we will be able to start new families, [and if] we are killed, [at least] our women and children will not fall into the hands of the Muslims.

"Before Islam [emerged], the Banu Qurayza were allied with the Aws tribe. Therefore, the Prophet sent Abu Lbaba [sic] Al-Awsi, [from the Aws tribe], to negotiate with them. [According to] historical sources, the Jews said that they would accept whatever Aws tribal leader Sa'd ibn Abi Ma'z decided... [After] receiving permission [to decide the matter] from both sides [i.e. from the Muslims and the Banu Qurayza Jews], Sa'd ruled: Slaughter all the [Jews’] grown men, take all the women and children captive, and confiscate all their property.

"The Jews accepted his ruling. After the order was given, a large ditch was dug, and all the men (some 600), were bound, and one morning, Emir Al-Muminin [apparently Imam ‘Ali] and [one of the Prophet’s Companions], Zubeir [ibn Al-Awwam] cut [the Jews'] throats and threw them in the ditch... Tradition has it that... in the struggle between the Muslims and the Jews, the final orders [for killing the Jews] were given by the Prophet. But this order [came] not from the Prophet [but from the leader of the Aws]... [because] how [could it be] that in the case of the two other tribes, the Prophet only ordered their exile, but in the case [of the Bau Qurayza] he took stronger measures?" [8]

IRNA: The Great Crime Of The Jews Of Khaybar

A June 15, 2012 article published by the Iranian state news agency IRNA marking "the anniversary of the conquest of Khaybar" stated that this date marked the struggle "of Muhammad against the Jews who aimed to destroy Islam... The Jews' hatred of the Prophet and the Muslims was even greater than the hatred [felt towards the Prophet and the Muslims by] the Quraysh [Tribe], which [enlisted all the Jews'] trickery and strength [for the aim of] vanquishing the Muslims..." The article continued: "The Jews living in Medina and its environs met an ill fate that was a direct result of their inappropriate deeds. A group of them was executed, and some [of them,] like the Banu Qaynuqa’ and Banu Nadir, were expelled from the Medina region and settled in Khaybar and Wadi Al-Qura…

"The great crime of the Jews of Khaybar was that they encouraged all Arab tribes to fight the Islamic regime. With monetary support from the Jews of Khaybar, one day the army of idolaters moved from various points in the Arabian Peninsula towards the city of Medina. As a result, war broke out between the sides.

"Thanks to the Prophet and the self sacrifice of his followers, the invading army was kept behind the trench for one month, after which [the invaders] were dispersed and returned to their homeland – among them the Jews of Khaybar, who returned to Khaybar – and calm [was restored] to the center of Islam. The dishonesty of the Jews of Khaybar convinced the Prophet that this dangerous concentration [of Jews had to be] dismantled, and that [the Jews of Khaybar] had to be disarmed. [This was] because of the fear that this stubborn, adventuresome people would make use of its tremendous wealth to once again incite the pagan Arabs against the Muslims..."

The Jews Incited Against Islam

An April 29, 2012 article on on the history and geography of the village of Fadaq, stated: "The village of Fadaq was situated two or three days north of Medina, in eastern Khaybar... and all its residents were Jews... In the seventh year of the Hijra, the Prophet sent the army [to Khaybar] to crush the Jews of Khaybar, who, in addition to giving shelter to subversive Jews who had been expelled from Medina, had conspired with and incited various tribes against Islam. After several days of siege, [the army] took their strongholds."

Linking The Battle Of Khaybar To Today's Arab-Israeli Conflict – And As A Model For Resolving It

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: Conditions Today Are The Same As Those In The Time Of Khaybar

In a speech in the city of Qom on January 9, 2012, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei discussed Iran's geopolitical situation and the U.S.'s economic sanctions against it, and likened the circumstances of Shi'ite Iran's struggle with the infidel U.S. and its Zionist allies with the circumstances at the time of the battles of Badr and Khaybar. Khamenei was referring to the Prophet Muhammad's 628 CE massacre of the Jews of Khaybar (see previous section) and to the 623 CE victory of the Prophet Muhammad and his small band of Muslims – which Khamenei meant to link to today's Shi'ites – over the wealthy infidel Quraysh tribe.

Khamenei said: "The front we are facing is a front of America and the Zionists, which have tried every method and every scheme to fight the Iranian nation... in order to weaken the regime's might and destroy the people's determination...

"At the dawn of Islam, the enemies, together with the Banu Taleb [Muhammad's wealthy rivals from the Banu Quraysh tribe] thought they would impose an economic siege on the Muslims [i.e. Muhammad's followers], but they were unsuccessful. Those wretches' calculations were wrong. [Today] they think that we are in the same situation as Banu Abi Taleb [who besieged Medina]... but this isn't the case. Today, we are in circumstances [identical to those of] Badr and Khaybar... Our nation [can already] see victory. The nation is close to victory."[9]

Iranian Middle East Expert: As At Khaybar, A Million Israelis Will Flee The Occupied Territories

On June 6, 2012, the Fars news agency published an interview with Mohammad Sadeq Al-Hosseini, former advisor to reformist culture minister Ataollah Mohajerani, and Middle East affairs expert. Following are excerpts from the interview:

Interviewer: "Considering the current condition, what is Israel's situation?"

Hosseini: "Hizbullah Secretary-General [Hassan Nasrallah] said a few days ago that the matter of 'Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates' is over. The Zionists feel for the first time that they have no incentive to continue defending this artificial state. They say that they are losing sleep over the 'resistance' – they now truly live with this feeling. You can see that they built a separation wall between them and the West Bank Palestinians. Now, due to their fear of the impact of the Egyptian revolution, they also want to build a separation wall along the Egyptian border. They also built a separation wall on the Lebanese border. This matter is exactly the meaning of the Koranic verse 'They will not fight you all except within fortified cities or from behind walls' [Koran 59:14]."

Question: "That is, the circumstances of Badr and Khaybar, to which the leader of the revolution [Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] referred?"

Hosseini: "Exactly. Why does he believe we are not under the circumstances of Abi Taleb but are under those of Badr and Khaybar? Because it was under the same circumstances as Badr that we won the [July 2006 Lebanon-Israel] 33-day war and the [2008-9 Israel-Hamas] 22-day war. The circumstances of Khaybar [are present today as well, because the Jews are fighting] from behind a wall. This means that they have reached the limit of their capabilities and options, and are no longer willing to leave their homes. Consider that Israel is a small and very narrow coastal country and does not have the strategic or geopolitical ability to defend itself, and it could disappear at any moment. These people could flee en masse. As [Yahya Rahim] Safavi said, under circumstances of all-out war, a million Israelis will flee the occupied territories [i.e., Israel] in the first week [of the war]. This is no exaggeration."[10]

"Throughout History," The Zionists Have Attempted To Destroy Islam Among The Muslims

On September 21, 2012, in response to the Western anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, Hujjat Al-Islam Ali Na'mat Allahi, who heads the Islamic guidance office in the city of Qazvin, explained that just as the Jews had harmed the Prophet Muhammad, "throughout history" the Zionists have tried to destroy Islam: "People would ask the Prophet, 'Which tribe harmed and harassed you the most during the spreading of Islam?' He answered that the Jewish tribe had greatly harmed and harassed him. This tradition clearly indicates that the Jewish tribe harmed the Prophet – [just as], throughout history, the Zionists have made efforts to marginalize the religion of Islam with the aim of destroying it among the Muslims."[11]

The "Jew-Zionists" Concocted The Holocaust Story – Just As They Distorted Facts In The Era Of Early Islam

A December 18, 2012 Holocaust-denial article on Fars, "The Holocaust – Entering The No-Entry Zone," by Mohammad Malik-Zadeh,[12] stated that the Holocaust is a myth and that no proof of this is necessary because the Islamic sources clearly indicate the skill of the "Jew-Zionists" when it comes to distorting facts.

The article stated: "...This is a summary of the main points of the story of the Holocaust from the point of view of its shapers, primarily the Jew-Zionists... An examination of the truth or falsity of this claim [that the Holocaust did indeed happen] is not the subject of this article, and is not the main aim of the author in writing it. It is sufficient to note here that in this matter, the Jews distorted and falsified their historic events [just] as they did at the dawn of Islam.[13] They are so skilled at doing this that there is no doubt that in this matter [i.e. the Holocaust] they also distorted the facts in order to [accomplish] their aim."

Ayatollah Ruhollah Qarehi: "It Is Still Possible" To Do To The Jews What Was Done At Khaybar

In an April 7, 2012 lesson on morality, Ayatollah Ruhollah Qarehi explained that the Jews have yet to overcome what Muhammad did to them at Khaybar. He said, "The Shi'a teaches that it is still possible to do [to the Jews] what was done to them [by Muhammad] at Khaybar, like [what] the Lebanese Hizbullah [did to the Israelis]. Dear [Hizbullah leader] Mr. Hassan Nasrallah is a great man who showed that it is still possible [to do what was done at Khaybar]. The Jews are incapable [of fighting the Muslims]."[14]

* E. Zigron is a research fellow at MEMRI; A. Savyon is director of the Iranian Media Project.


[1] (Iran), August 17, 2012.

[2] (Iran), July 1, 2012; Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi expressed similar sentiments, (Iran), September 3, 2012.

[3] Fars (Iran), August 17, 2012.

[4], August 31, 2012. It should be noted that these statements from the sermon were not reported in the Iranian print media.

[5] Walter J. Fischel, "The Jews in Mediaeval Iran, from the 16th to the 18th Centuries," In: Shaul Shaked (ed.), Irano-Judaica I (Jerusalem, 1982), pp. 265-291; Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton, New-Jersey, 1984).

[6] Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (Translated and annotated by Hamid Algar) (Berkeley, 1981), p. 27, 89, 109, 127. See also Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Al-Qadiyya al-Falastiniyya fi kalam al-Imam al-khomeini, Beirut, 1996, p. 31, and Khomeini, Al-Hukuma Al-Islamiyya ("Islamic Government"), Beirut, 1979, p. 83.

[7] It should be noted that Iranian regime spokesmen are ostensibly calling for a democratic solution to the Palestinian problem, but a close look at the essence of the solution that they propose shows that it is a delicately worded demand for the elimination of the State of Israel. Iran's intention is to bring back the Palestinian refugees and conduct a referendum among those who lived in Mandatory Palestine prior to 1948. Thus, a state with a Muslim Arab majority will come into being, and only the offspring of Jews who lived there prior to 1948 will be permitted to remain and live there unharmed. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on November 23, 2012 that there is no need for war to solve the Palestinian issue – it can be done democratically, through free elections whose results will indicate that the Zionists have no place in Palestine. Mehr (Iran), November 23, 2012.

[8], March 10, 2012.

[9], January 9, 2012.

[10] Fars (Iran), June 6, 2012

[11] Fars (Iran), September 21, 2012.

[12] Fars (Iran), December 18, 2012. This originally appeared in the 10th issue of the Farhang-e Pouya magazine, published by the Imam Khomeini Center for Education and Culture, which is run by Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi. This article will be discussed extensively in Part II of this series, which will focus on Holocaust denial.

[13] The author adds here this footnote: "In religious texts, and particularly in the Koran, in many instances, the hypocritical policy of the Jews is omitted. For example, 'The Table' [Chapter 5], Verse 13 refers to the Jewish tribes' violation of the pact. [This chapter] stresses the [Jews'] treachery and distortion of facts, and for this reason they were cursed by God: 'We have cursed the Jews and made their hearts heavy because they violated the pact. They distorted the words and took them out of context, and forgot some of the things for which they were chastised, and you [the Prophet] should always be aware of their treacherous [nature].'"

[14] Fars (Iran), April 7, 2012.

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