JERUSALEM — Several candidates for the Iranian presidency have attacked outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for encouraging international scorn of Iran because of his denial of the Holocaust.
Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf said Iran was reviled because of Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of the Holocaust as "a myth." "We were never against Judaism; it’s a religion," Ghalibaf said in an interview with Iran’s Tasnim News Agency last week. "What we opposed was Zionism. Denying the Holocaust is not part of our foreign policy."
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Another candidate, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, said Ahmadinejad’s repeated statements on the subject had provoked unnecessary tensions with the international community.
"We paid for it without having gained anything," he said. "Why must the Security Council admonish us? Why must all European countries condemn us?"
The attacks on Ahmadinejad are in line with hostility expressed towards him on other issues by the Iranian establishment, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Statements by the official press and numerous government figures refer to the outgoing president and the man he is supporting in the presidential race, Esfandiar Rahm Mashaei, as leaders of "the deviant sect" or "perverted group."
Mashaei, a former intelligence officer who serves as chief of staff of Ahmadinejad’s office, is a relative of his by marriage.
The two share theological views focused on the imminent coming of the Shiite Messiah, putting them at odds with the clerical establishment in Iran. However, Mashei has made surprisingly conciliatory statements about the Jewish state.
"Iranians are friends of all people in the world, even Israelis," he has said. "Iran is a friend of the nation in the United States and in Israel and this is an honor."
Hardliners in Tehran are also determined to block the candidacy of a former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is seen as a leader of the reformist camp and a backer of the massive demonstrations that followed the 2009 elections.
The 78-year-old cleric surprised Iranians when he filed his candidacy last week at the last minute. It is not clear whether the moderate figure will be among the candidates chosen by the 12-member Guardians Council, which will publish a short list of approved candidates on Tuesday.
If he is permitted to run, analysts see him drawing widespread support among those disaffected from the regime. Rafsanjani advocates improved relations with the West, the freeing of political prisoners, and economic liberalization. His position on the nuclear question is not clear, but decisions on that issue rest more with the Supreme Leader than the president.