Paris, 10 January 2011
In a letter to UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr.Shimon Samuels, noted that "the Iranian student Basij militia, of Bu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in Hamadan province, have removed the mausoleum sign to the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb in Shush, during a demonstration replete with antisemitic racist calumny".
The letter continued,"the annual feast of Purim is a Jewish celebration of delivery from genocide.The Bible recounts how the Persian monarch, Ahasuerus was warned by his Queen,Esther,and her uncle Mordechai of his Minister Haman’s treachery.Thus was averted Haman’s planned massacre of Persian Jewry.Like the Passover story, Purim is a children’s festival iconizing liberation and justice. The tomb of its heroes, Esther and Mordechai,has for centuries been a revered Jewish pilgrimage site, long acknowledged as such by the Iranian authorities as a protected national heritage landmark".
Samuels pointed to Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency reports:
that "the student Basij campaign, which began last September, has now turned menacing in words and actions, declaring, inter alia, that:
-the removal of the mausoleum sign denotes the effacement of the site’s Jewish character
-an accompanying revisionist narrative holds Esther and Mordechai responsible for the murder of 75,000 Iranian [sic] martyrs, murdered in the course of one day i.e. 10% of the then Iranian population
-this was 'a Holocaust' that displaces the myth of the Nazi Holocaust
-the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.
-its name must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews and to return the shrine to the Iranian people
-the site must become 'a Holocaust memorial' to the Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai, and must be placed under the supervision of the religious endowments authority.
-speakers listed, declared that 'unfortunately, large numbers of Iranian citizens, unaware of the facts, have travelled to this tomb of the damned , which honours the murderers of thousands of Iranians'. They then presented a litany of supposed 'Jewish atrocities' in Ethiopia and Yemen, and claimed that 'the Jewish festival of Purim sweetens the blood of Jewish children' with the misfortunes of Iran".
The Centre argued that "this matter should be of concern to UNESCO on two counts:
1-the abuse of Bu-Ali Sina /Avicenna University - founded by the French Ministry of Education in 1973 – now become a vector for the dissemination of, and incitement to, hatred in direct violation of UNESCO’s educational provisions
2-the physical and moral damage to the site contravenes UNESCO’s World Heritage principles".
The letter thus urged UNESCO "to condemn these abuses and to call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration".
"It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites", concluded Samuels.
The Centre also shared this information with the French authorities, urging the suspension of all cooperation with Bu-Ali Sina /Avicenna University,pending its condemnation of its students’ racist behaviour.The University was established by France in 1973.