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Why Did the Biden Administration Feel Compelled to Mention Gaza in a Persian New Year Greeting?

Iranians, including those in the diaspora were shocked by Biden’s statement.
[additional-authors]
April 3, 2024
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Mansoreh Motamedi/Getty images

There is an old Persian adage that aptly describes the Iranian regime’s obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a fanatic obsession which has resulted in billions of dollars of aid to terrorist organizations abroad, while many Iranians at home starve and suffer. In English, the adage loosely translates to “The bowl is hotter than the soup that is in it.”

At times, it seems that the (Shiite) regime in Tehran is more Palestinian than the (Sunni) Palestinians, and that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other leaders seem to tweet more about the Palestinians, Israel, and America than about Iran, the country they have led to social and economic ruin for 45 years. 

Iranians have long known that the regime invests in Israel’s enemies more than its own people. According to the U.S. Treasury, Iran transfers over $700 million annually to the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah, and over $100 million each year to various Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But back in Tehran, nationwide bread rationing, a result of the worst economic crisis the country has seen since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, means the average Iranian is unable to purchase more than a few loaves of Barbari bread with one ration card.

In a new low, the exchange rate of Iran’s currency has plunged to 0.0000014 cents, or 613,500 rials to the dollar, just in time for Persian New Year (Nowruz). In 1975, only four years before the Islamic Revolution turned the country into an official Shiite theocracy, that rate stood at 67.25 rials to the dollar.

One has to wonder whether a government that is so economically inept that it is currently implementing policies to stop the smuggling of subsidized bread and flour to neighboring countries should be sending nearly $1 billion annually to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In Iran, citizens have done more than wonder; for the past two decades, they have taken to the streets and social media, shouting that the regime cares more about terrorists abroad than its people at home.  

It is telling that there have been no mass protests in Iran in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. In fact, more angry protesters have taken to the streets in North America and Europe than in Iran since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last fall. 

Like everything else in the theocratic dictatorship, the regime’s relentless focus on the Palestinians does not reflect the beliefs or the priorities of mainstream Iranians. But one would not know that after having read President Biden’s Nowruz greeting.

The statement described Nowruz, which ended last week after a 13-day period of observance, as “a time of reflection, renewal, and rebirth” and acknowledged the regime’s brutal denial of “fundamental human rights.” Biden offered support for Iranian women, who were at the center of the largest female-led civil disobedience campaigns and protests in the region’s history last fall, after the murder of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. 

The statement was safe and benign, until it took a strange turn: “The war in Gaza has also inflicted terrible suffering on the Palestinian people, and we will continue to lead international efforts to get more humanitarian assistance to them — including urgently needed food, water, medicine and shelter,” it read.

“I cannot get over the fact that President Biden’s statement marking the Persian New Year (Nowruz) randomly mentions the war in Gaza,” tweeted American journalist Yashar Ali, who previously served as deputy chief of staff for California governor Gavin Newsom (D). “Nowruz is not an Arab holiday or a Muslim holiday. And no mention of Afghanistan where the Taliban has canceled Nowruz as a holiday. Who approved this?”

Iranians, including those in the diaspora (roughly four million worldwide) were shocked by Biden’s statement. We know that Palestinians do not celebrate Nowruz, that Iranians are not Arabs, and that Nowruz is not a Muslim holiday, but a 3,000-year-old ancient Zoroastrian-rooted holiday celebrated by millions of people of various faiths, whether in Iran, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan or elsewhere in the region. 

So why did the Biden administration feel compelled to lump the war in Gaza — which Hamas started on Oct. 7 with the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust — with Nowruz, a non-denominational celebration of rebirth and spring?

“I’m deeply concerned that the administration may be giving in to the extremists on the left who think that the anti-Israel cause should dominate every discussion about every issue, from climate change to a holiday with Zoroastrian roots,” Siamak Kordestani, an Iranian-American and former staff member to Democrats in Congress, told me.

Millions of Iranians in Iran and the diaspora expected Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Nowruz message to emphasize Gaza; after all, the regime helped Hamas plan the Oct. 7 massacre. But few could have expected Biden to echo Khamenei’s Nowruz greetings, and the Supreme Leader must have been thrilled over such vindication. 

On Twitter, Iranian-American physician and musician Reza Behrouz called the statement “One of the worst, if not the worst #Nowruz message a U.S. president has ever delivered. It has the fingerprints of NIAC [the National Iranian American Council, which has been accused of alignment with the regime] all over it. The primary concern for the #Iranian-American community is maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic and holding accountable regime leaders by prioritizing legislations such as the #MAHSAAct.” 

Was the administration offering an olive branch to American Muslim voters ahead of a critical election in which leaders of those communities have outwardly voiced their dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the war in Gaza? If so, Biden and his advisors must understand the nuances between American Muslim communities, including Iranian-Americans, as well as those of Iranian religious minorities.  

“The White House statement was an insult to Iranian-Americans and the people of Iran,” Andrew Ghalili, NUFDI (National Union for Democracy in Iran) Senior Policy Analyst, told me. “It followed Ali Khamenei’s lead in playing down the Iranian people’s ongoing movement for liberation and played up the entirely irrelevant conflict in Gaza. A celebration of Iranian heritage, tradition, culture, and national unity was abused to promote an entirely irrelevant political agenda.”

“It is consistent with what we have come to expect from this administration’s Iran policy beginning with the President himself — a total inability or refusal to grasp realities on the ground in Iran or in the Iranian American community.” – Andrew Ghalili

Ghalili believes the statement was “either rooted in appeasement or incompetence. Either way, it is consistent with what we have come to expect from this administration’s Iran policy beginning with the president himself — a total inability or refusal to grasp realities on the ground in Iran or in the Iranian-American community. It is time for a new, strategic direction for Iran policy that empowers the Iranian people and secures American interests.” 

Last month, it was a tone-deaf Nowruz greeting, followed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s soft request that Tehran should ask the Yemen-based Houthis “to stop” attacks against shipping vessels in the Red Sea that have wreaked havoc on global trade. This month, it will be another pair (or two) of blunders; perhaps the administration will release a Passover greeting to the American Jewish community in which it also mentions Palestinians in Gaza, though one can hope President Biden understands the painful historic connection between ancient Egypt’s enslavement of Jews and modern-day Israelis who still are in Hamas captivity today, including women and children.

Earlier this month, Iran displayed its latest UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) at the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX 2024) in Qatar, a country that offers refuge to Hamas leaders. The drone can carry up to 13 bombs and travel over 1,000 miles. It is named “Gaza.” 

Yes, the bowl is even hotter than the soup that is in it. And as Western coddling continues to embolden the regime to a point of no return, the Biden administration would be wise to put down its metaphoric spoon, and finally consider some of the other options that are disappearing slowly off the table.


 

Tabby Refael is an award-winning writer, speaker and weekly columnist for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Follow her on X/Twitter and Instagram @TabbyRefael.

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