Inside Iran Part III: The Jewish Question

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FOX News' Amy Kellogg recently visited Iran, where she interviewed journalists, students and others on life inside the Islamic Republic. This is the third in a series of eight installments about that trip, which will be aired every night on FOX News Channel.

It's tiny now, but Iran's Jewish community was once vibrant — dating back at least 2,500 years.

It was the ancient Persian King Cyrus who freed the Jews from Babylon and sent them back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. Iranians gave thousands of European Jews shelter during the Holocaust. And Iran was the first Muslim country to have dealings with Israel.

Click in the video box to the right for a report by FOX News' Amy Kellogg.

But after the Islamic Revolution, Iran adopted a hard-line anti-Zionist policy, one Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reinforced last month when he said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Iranian officials and commentators continue to try to spin Tehran out of a diplomatic hole.

"We have a philosophical objection to Zionism much as we did to apartheid and fascism ... it doesn't mean we are going to attack," said Amir Mohebian of the Resalat newspaper. "After all, fascism has gone away, but Germany is still on the map."

Iran's foreign ministry denies the president meant what he said, adding official policy is for Israel and Palestine to have a popular referendum.

Even though some officials have tried to soften the president's comments, the plight of the Palestinian people remains a national obsession here. Symbols of the struggle are everywhere; in Palestine Square in central Tehran, there's a statue of Israel with a hole in the middle of it. Cartoons glorifying Palestinian suicide and homicide bombers are running on Iranian television.

Some Iranians privately wonder why their government makes Palestine such a focus when Iranians aren't even Arabs, and when Iran has enough problems of its own. And some took issue with Ahmadinejad's comments.

"I was shocked ... I didn't believe my ears, my eyes," said one Iranian.

One journalist doubts the comments were just a blunder. He feels extreme regimes like to cut themselves off from the rest of the world so they can do as they please at home.

"Radicalism is the best friend of isolationism," said analyst Saeed Laylaz.

But there are people, even in Iran's hard-line government, who don't relish isolation and who privately say they hope the president learned a lesson from the backlash he received. Still, no prominent figure has come out and condemned those comments publicly.

Watch Part IV of the series, which focuses on Iran's controversial nuclear program, Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on FOX News Channel's "FOX Report w/Shepard Smith."