Ari Babaknia: Fighting Anti-Semitism by Educating Iranians and Farsi Speakers

June 29, 2020

By Karmel Melame

In June of 1967 Ari Babaknia, an Iranian Jewish medical student was walking down the hallways of his medical school in Iran when out of nowhere a Muslim student he did know violently slapped him in the face. “That is for your filthy country killing Muslims and bring shame to us!” the Muslim student shouted at him. That anti-Semitic attack Babaknia faced after Israel’s 1967 Six Days War victory was not the first nor the last anti-Semitic experience he would experience. Yet the incident parked Babaknia’s lifelong desire to fight this form of hate in non-Jewish Iranians by educating them about the nature of anti-Semitism with message that Jew hatred and other forms of religious or racial hate were something negative for all of humanity. Today aside from being a world-renowned obstetrician and gynecologist, Babaknia has dedicated the better part of the last 50 years of his life educating Iranians and other Farsi speakers of all faiths about the Holocaust and the dangers of anti-Semitism through his books, lectures and Farsi language media appearances. His approach has been teaching Iranians that anti-Semitism is a disease of hate found in mankind and the Holocaust was a tragedy for all of humanity instead of just a calamity for just the Jews. This effort by Babaknia has truly transformed the mindset of millions of Iranians worldwide with regards to anti-Semitism.

After the incident of being slapped in the face, Babaknia did not seek vengeance but instead channeled his energies into writing the first Farsi language book about all the Jewish Nobel Prize winners. Babaknia believed that if he could educate average Iranians about the countless positive contributions Jews have made for the benefit of all of humanity, then perhaps it may reduce or even eliminate their anti-Semitism. Yet the journey of writing this book was no easy task for Babaknia to undertake during that time in Iran. Moreover, even after writing the book, he hit obstacles in getting the book published as the Iranian government under the late Shah had censors in place to review any book in advance in order to approve its content for publication. At first, the anti-Semitic official reviewing Babaknia’s book refused to give his stamp of approval to allow for its publication. Interestingly, while the late Shah’s government was not hostile to Jews, anti-Semitism was still widely prevalent in the country at that time among people in all social classes. Despite this substantial setback, Babaknia never gave up on this effort to fight anti-Semitism in Iran through publication of his book. Eventually many months later by a stroke of good luck and through his own persistence, his groundbreaking book was eventually granted approval for publication and published in Iran.

Even after moving to the United States, Babaknia did not give up his passion and desire to fight anti-Semitism among Iranians and Farsi language speakers. In 1997, he began a 15-year journey by investing more than $2 million of his own life savings in order to write the first Farsi language historical book about the Holocaust. While other books about the Holocaust had been translated to Farsi, no native speaker had ever written an original historical account of the Holocaust in Farsi. His work included visits to libraries and archives across the country looking for documentation, reviewing historical records and paying for a few assistants to help edit and type thousands of pages of manuscript. Babaknia said he wrote 12,000 pages of the entire book by hand because it was much easier to express the emotional and mental gravity of this event when he wrote it in longhand Farsi. For 15 years, Babaknia put his entire medical practice on hold, sacrificing one of his major sources of income in order to focus solely on this herculean endeavor to educate Iranians and Farsi speakers about the Holocaust and its anti-Semitic roots. Finally in 2012, the four-volume, 2,400-page book, entitled simply “Holocaust,” was completed and published detailing the facts of the Holocaust from the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany to the final days of World War II. The book is filled with graphic photographs from the era as well as countless U.S. and European government documents. The book and Babaknia’s lectures focus on the Nazi genocide being a massive calamity for all of humanity with the killing of millions of innocents on an industrial scale. The impact of the book and Babaknia’s countless public appearances and media appearances on Farsi language radio and television programs on networks such as Voice of America Farsi and the BBC Farsi language have been substantial. While his book is banned in Iran, hundreds of copies have still managed to find their way into the country. This could not have come at a better time especially after Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had repeatedly denied the Holocaust and the Iranian regime had put on Holocaust denial cartoon competitions and conferences.

In recent years, Babaknia’s efforts to fight anti-Semitism by educating Iranians and other Farsi speakers, have also led him to being welcomed to the Iman Cultural Center, an Iranian Shiite mosque in Los Angeles where he lectured to a full house of nearly 300 Iranian Muslims. He has also spoken at Iranian Bahai centers and countless other Iranian organizations throughout America about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Moreover, Babaknia work to educate about anti-Semitism inspired the late famous Iranian-Muslim artist, Ardeshir Mohasses, to paint 300 graphic sketches about the Shoah. Subsequently, in 2014 Babaknia published “Humanity, Not,” a 300-page English language book that juxtaposes the words of scholars, survivors, Holocaust victims with the same sketches from Mohasses. Lastly, Babaknia also formed the Memora Foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal to educate Farsi speakers about the dangers of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate.

Ultimately all of Babaknia’s efforts to educate Iranians and other Farsi speakers about antiSemitism and the Holocaust has no doubt had an impact on the roughly 80 million Farsi speakers live in Iran, 40 million living in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and 20 million living in Europe and North America. His life’s effort to fight anti-Semitism among Iranians by educating them in their own language will have positive reverberations for decades to come.

Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California; He is a member of the Speakers Bureau of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. His piece, “Ari Babaknia: Fighting Anti-Semitism by Educating Iranians and Farsi Speakers”, was selected as a winner of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement’s Natan Sharansky Advocacy Award.