(JTA) — Iranian authorities have downgraded the status of the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, while an official state news agency has publicized the Purim story as a Jewish massacre of Iranians.
Officials recently removed the sign that identified the mausoleum of the biblical figures in the central Iranian city of Hamadan as an official pilgrimage site. The removal of the sign signifies that its status has been downgraded, according to reports.
The actions come about two weeks after a group of about 250 militant students surrounded the tomb and threatened to tear it down. Their threats were in response to alleged Israeli excavations under the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The biblical Queen Esther was the second wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, identified as Xerxes I; Mordechai was her uncle, who also raised her.
The Iranian state news agency Fars has been reporting that Esther and Mordechai were responsible for the massacre of more than 75,000 Iranians, an event recorded in the Book of Esther, which is read on the Jewish festival of Purim.
The reports, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center citing Fars, also call the tomb an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; report that its name must be wiped away in order to teach Iranian children to "beware of the crimes of the Jews"; call for the shrine’s return to the Iranian people; and say that the site must become "a Holocaust memorial" to the "Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai" and be placed under the supervision of the state religious endowments authority.
In a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director-General Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, urged UNESCO to "call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration."
"It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites," Samuels concluded.