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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs