Now They Tell Us: Iran Didn’t Actually Threaten to Wipe Israel Off the Map

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor acknowledged on Al Jazeera English (4/14/12) that Iranian leaders have never called for Israel to be “wiped” off the map.

Meridor agreed with interviewer Teymoor Nabili’s suggestion that the supposed remarks were never actually made; Iranian leaders, Meridor said,

come basically ideologically, religiously, with the statement that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say “we’ll wipe it out,” you are right, but [that] it will not survive, it is a cancerous tumor, it should be removed.

Hostile words, to be sure, but not the menacing threat endlessly reported in corporate U.S. media in recent years. (Iran, Israel and “wiped off the map” occur together more than 8,500 times in the Nexis news database in the last seven years.)

Of course, Mideast expert and blogger Juan Cole noted long ago that Ahmadinejad never called for Israel to be wiped off the map, but Meridor’s interview suggests that there is hope this information might finally penetrate the corporate media bubble.

A New York Times blog (Lede, 4/18/12) wrote up the Al Jazeera interview (“Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map.'”) Though the Lede‘s lede was somewhat grudging, suggesting the Persian language was partly to blame for the confusion (“In a reminder that Persian rhetoric is not always easy for English-speakers to interpret…”), it nevertheless indicated a clean break from earlier media insistence that the threatening remarks, coupled with a supposed Iranian nuclear weapons program, posed an existential threat to Israel.

The Times has used the shopworn Ahmadinejad canard on several occasions. “Wipe Israel ‘Off the Map,’ Iranian Says,” was the paper’s October 27, 2005 headline; a January 19, 2010 report stated matter-of-factly: “The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. He has also denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.” Other Times stories have acknowledged doubts about the claim (6/11/06, 1/8/11), but the paper has never conclusively established the context and meaning of remarks, despite the fact that Jonathan Steele, an Iranian expert who writes for the London Guardian, tried to explain it to Times reporter Ethan Bronner (6/11/06) :

The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The “page of time” phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon.

Other media outlets have expressed even less doubt that Iran is hell-bent for Israel’s annihilation. “Iran’s president unleashes another warning to Israel, declaring once again that the Jewish state will be wiped off the map, and soon,” remarked CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer (Situation Room, 6/2/08). “Since Ahmadinejad took office four years ago,” announced CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric (9/23/09), “he’s built a reputation as a provocateur, saying Israel should be wiped off the map.” As a recentWashington Post op-ed (4/1/12) by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky explained, “Israel is the only country that Iran has repeatedly threatened to wipe off the map.”

Over the years, two key claims have sustained hostility toward Iran in official circles and the media: that it is attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons, and that it wants to wipe Israel off the map.

The first claim, though now contradicted by American officials and the CIA, who say there’s no proof Iran is currently working on nuclear weapons, nevertheless survives in the media as sort of unkillable zombie lie.

It remains to be seen if the bogus charge that Iran has vowed to wipe Israel off the map will be as resilient, even after a top Israeli official has acknowledged its inaccuracy.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.