News / Middle East

Iranian New Year Greetings Leave Israelis Perplexed, Pleased

FILE - Iran's newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani is seen gesturing to the media during a news conference in Tehran, June 17, 2013.
FILE - Iran's newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani is seen gesturing to the media during a news conference in Tehran, June 17, 2013.
Reuters
Israelis reacted with a mixture of pleasant surprise and wary skepticism on Friday to reports that the new Iranian president and his foreign minister had both issued greetings to mark the Jewish New Year.
 
Relations between the two countries have been dire for years, with Israel threatening to attack the Islamic Republic over fears it is planning to build nuclear weapons that could one day jeopardize the survival of the Jewish state.
 
Iran denies it wants an atomic bomb, but former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office last month, regularly riled Israel by calling for the destruction of the “Zionist entity”.
 
In a change of tone, his successor Hassan Rouhani and the new foreign minister, Javad Zarif, appeared to issue tweets in English wishing Jews a good Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish new year that is being celebrated this week. Iran has long declared an official respect for the Jewish faith while condemning Israel.
 
“Happy Rosh Hashanah,” tweeted Zarif on a profile that notes his career as a diplomat, academic and “Uni of Denver alum”.
 
The reported greetings came just as Israel was settling into a long holiday weekend and there was no official reaction.
 
Ordinary Israelis were torn about their meaning.
 
“Gosh I hadn't heard about that, but I think it's very nice of him,” said Julia Blus, 25, who works at an amusement park at Manara Cliffs. Next to the Lebanese border, it overlooks hostile territory controlled by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.
 
By contrast, Roni Benjamin, 66, a bank executive from Kfar Saba in central Israel, said: “It doesn't mean anything; I don't see any real change there ... What [Rouhani] really needs to do is to understand that we are not his enemies.”
 
Rouhani's election in June has encouraged speculation of a more conciliatory approach to foreign affairs from Tehran, though the president's power is heavily circumscribed by the clerical hierarchy and Israel's government remains very wary.
 
Denial
 
Confusing matters, Israeli news websites quoted an official in the Iranian president's office denying any New Year greetings had been sent and saying Rouhani's English-language Twitter account, used during his election campaign, was not active.
 
There was no denial from Zarif and the minister went further to push back on a comment that Iran denies the Nazi Holocaust: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone,” he tweeted, apparently meaning Ahmadinejad.
 
On Facebook, he wrote: “We condemn the massacre of Jews by the Nazis and we condemn the massacre of Palestinians by the Zionists.”
 
Iran is home to the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East - albeit only a few thousand people following mass emigration last century. It denies Israel's right to exist but even Ahmadinejad embraced some Jews - as long as they rejected the Zionist movement that established the Israeli state.
 
Neither Rouhani or Zarif mentioned the word “Israel”.
 
“It's hard to feel flattered about this form of anti-Semitism that says Jews are OK as long as they don't dare have their own sovereign state,” said Michal Bachar, a 36-year-old from Jerusalem.
 
Arieh Rosen, 33, a cultural representative at the Polish Institute, said the New Year greetings were “cute” but did not generate much talk among his family and friends at holiday gatherings. “I suppose it is a calculated PR stunt,” he said.
 
Naama Shilony, 33, a mother of two from Jerusalem, said her family did discuss the tweets. And while her relatives thought it was nonsense, she said it had made her happy.
 
“It was a positive encouraging sign,” she said. “I just regret it was made on Twitter, which is an informal platform.”
 
Iran has been at the forefront of Israeli policymaking for years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged his Western allies not to be lulled by conciliatory words from Rouhani.
 
In his own New Year address, Netanyahu again stressed that tackling Iran's nuclear program was “of paramount importance”.
 
He said: “We simply cannot allow the world's most dangerous regime to obtain the world's most dangerous weapon.”

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs