Jonathan Greenblatt is the leading authority on antisemitism, in the eyes of the mainstream media, as the CEO of the pro-Israel organization the Anti-Defamation League, and yesterday morning he reported that a Jewish holy site in Iran had been “set afire.”
Disturbing reports from #Iran that the tomb of Esther & Mordechai, a holy Jewish site, was set afire overnight. We hope that the the authorities bring the perpetrators of this #antisemitic act to justice & commit to protecting the holy sites of all religious minorities in Iran.
There was no link to a news report in the tweet. But the rightwing pro-Israel echo chamber went to work. The Jerusalem Post published a story, headlined “Holy Jewish site of Esther and Mordechai set ablaze in Iran — reports,” and cited Greenblatt as the lead source.
Greenblatt “announced” that the tomb had been “torched,” the Post said:
BERLIN – National Director of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jonathan Greenblatt announced Friday on Twitter that the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Iran was torched.
That article was authored by Benjamin Weinthal of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the neoconservative thinktank that has been propagandizing about Iran’s supposed aggressive threat to the world in order to instigate an American attack.
[Update: Latest report, including fotos, says that a building adjacent to the tomb was damaged by fire. An Al Jazeera producer in Tehran tweets: “First images from Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in city of #Hamedan: a small fire in an adjacent building to tomb occured on Thursday. Still unclear if it was an arson or not. President of Iranian #Jewish Community Humayun Sami-yeh [pictured] visits the site.” He also provides video he says was shot Saturday.]
Greenblatt’s tweet resonated in the United States. The government’s special envoy on antisemitism, Elan Carr, tweeted, “We strongly condemn the attack on the Tomb of Esther & Mordechai in Hamedan #Iran, which follows a threat last Feb. against the site.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the supposed attack. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement that “Jewish leaders” were outraged by the “arson.”
“We are outraged by reports that the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran, was desecrated by arson last night.”
These leaders might be excused in their rush to judgment by the fact that such a leading authority, Jonathan Greenblatt, issued the report in the first place. Surely he knows.
But it has been a full day since that tweet and there is nothing to show for it.
In fact, there is good reason to doubt the truth of Greenblatt’s report of a fire and “perpetrators.” A Persian language service of Radio Free Europe says this morning that an attempted break-in at the tomb about 200 miles west of Tehran was unsuccessful, and there was “minimal” damage to the shrine. Though it also says fire trucks went to the scene.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA on Saturday morning confirmed that there had been an attempt to break into the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, a holy Jewish site in Hamedan, but removed the report from its website two hours after its publication.
On Saturday morning IRNA reported from Hamedan that the perpetrator of the attack on the Jewish tomb of Esther and Mordechai had tried to enter the building through an adjacent bank but had failed in his attempt. The report said the Jewish shrine had not sustained damages. It also claimed that the perpetrator’s face had been recorded on CCTV footage and police were looking for him.
So far this story looks like a bunch of pro-Israel ideologues jumping on a flimsy account from Iran in order to demonize the Iranian government as bigoted against Jews. It’s revealing that Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, which publishes an annual list of antisemitic incidents in the United States on which the media relies, would lend himself to this irresponsible claim. But then that shows what Greenblatt is, an ideologue. Playing with fire.
Our publisher Scott Roth led the way here. Last night he tweeted of Weinthal’s story in the Jerusalem Post:
This isn’t a news article. It’s a story about a rumor and certain folks’ almost giddy response to that rumor. This article has zero evidence that this event occurred. Also the author is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies which exists to foment regime change on Iran.
Roth faulted Greenblatt for bias and irresponsibility:
As much as Greenblatt would like this to be true so as to increase the chances of a violent confrontation with Iran, there are no reports stating what he is alleging.
This post originally said Hamedan is 100 miles west of Tehran, we corrected that.