Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came under fire after using an antisemitic slur and jokingly wishing the United States would cease to exist in an interview earlier this month.
Zarif used the word “juhood” – a derogatory term for Jewish people in the Persian language – when asked about Tehran’s position toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with an Iranian journalist Mehdi Nasiri which was posted online on December 9.
“I cannot imagine any circumstances under which we would officially recognize Israel … What is our solution? [Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] has stated the solution. It is not throwing the juhood into the sea, or a military attack … The supreme leader has said what the solution is … Our solution is a popular referendum,” Zarif said.
Zarif’s use of the word “juhood” sparked backlash after the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) posted parts of the interview with English subtitles.
In response, Zarif said his use of the word, which he acknowledged is of a derogatory nature, was misinterpreted.
“MEMRI has sunk to a new low in taking my pejorative usage of a word to accuse me of Antisemitism. I was mocking the allegation that Iran seeks to ‘throw the Jews into the sea’ and reiterating our solution is a referendum with participation of ALL: Jews, Muslims, Christians,” Zarif said on Twitter on Wednesday.
Iranian military officials regularly threaten to “annihilate” Israel. In 2018, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brig. Gen. Hossein warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he should practice swimming in the Mediterranean, “because soon he will have no choice but to flee to the sea.”
Zarif is “lying about Iran's positions on Jews and Israel,” MEMRI said on Thursday in response. “The MEMRI archives are full of research proving that the Iranian regime and its leaders are antisemitic and call openly for the annihilation of Israel.”
“After listening to Zarif’s reference to Jews as “Johood”, I can unequivocally say that his use of the word in this context was antisemitic,” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Jewish Israeli Middle East commentator, said on Twitter.
Zarif could have instead used words such as “Yahoodian” or “Kalimian” – words in the Persian language that are commonly used to refer to Jewish people – Javedanfar added. “But he did not. Shame on you @JZarif.”
In another part of the same interview, Zarif jokingly said he wished the US would “leave planet earth,” just as it did with the Iran nuclear deal, which also sparked criticism.
“By leaving the nuclear deal, the US has forfeited its rights … America is still obligated to lift its sanctions … because it has remained a member of the UN … Of course, it had the option to [leave the UN], like it left UNESCO and other organizations. God willing, it will also leave Planet Earth,” Zarif said.
Critics say such a remark, even if accompanied by a laugh, exposes Zarif’s “two-facedness” and how he conducts himself differently when speaking to a domestic audience than when he is to Western media.
“When @JZarif speaks to western press, everyone sees a polished and reasonable man. In Persian, his brutal self won’t be subdued. Here he says, good humoredly too, that he hopes the US will disappear from the earth ... reformist? Only another hardliner without a turban,” Iranian author Roya Hakakian said on Twitter.