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May 8, 2014 10:22 am

WhatsApp Ban Shows Iran’s True Colors

avatar by Ronald S. Lauder

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Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with WhatsApp Founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, in Silicon Valley, on March 5, 2014.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with WhatsApp Founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, in Silicon Valley, on March 5, 2014.

This week, the Islamic Republic apparently banned the popular WhatsApp messaging application, which is owned by Facebook, reportedly because Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is an “American Zionist” – a code word for “Jew.”

The state-run Iranian News Agency attributed the ban to Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, head of Iran’s Committee on Internet Crimes. Soon after, however, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that the ban was not true.

Hard to tell what the truth is here. The Iranian government has been known to say one thing in Persian for internal consumption while saying something quite different in English to the rest of the world. Some suggested the report and its rebuttal represented jockeying among hardline and more moderate factions. A ban might be academic, because the Internet is severely restricted in Iran anyway. Twitter and Facebook are officially banned, although many Iranians access the sites through third-party providers and some regime figures, like Rouhani, use the platforms to communicate with the West.

The real meaning of the episode, however, is clear: As Iran has demonstrated many times, it is a dictatorship that uses anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism in order to create bogeymen and control its populace. Its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, most recently during a speech in late March. Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah continue to rain rockets on Israel.

Nothing has changed.

President Rouhani can tweet all he wants and smile in front of Western cameras, but his charm offensive cannot disguise the extremism, bigotry, cruelty, and repressiveness of the Iranian regime. Rouhani promised a change, including more openness. Yet on his watch, censorship of the Internet has been strengthened, not relaxed. Rouhani tries to present himself as a responsible statesman with whom the West can do business. Yet his regime still traffics in hatred.

We can only hope that the Iranian people are resourceful enough to evade the shackles of their government’s censorship, and that they are open-minded enough to see through their leaders’ attempts to manipulate them.

We must also remind those countries rushing to welcome back a supposedly more moderate Iran into the world community: It is not a new Iran, but the same Iran with a (not really so) new face.

Ronald S. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress. This column originally appeared on his blog at www.worldjewishcongress.org.

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