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WhatsApp banned in Iran because Zuckerberg is Jewish?

Calling the Facebook CEO (and new owner of WhatsApp) an “American Zionist,” an Iranian censor blocks the popular messaging app.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Facebook page.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Facebook page. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

An Iranian censor has banned the uber-popular messaging app WhatsApp and apparently it's Mark Zuckerberg's fault... because he's Jewish.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, certain Iranian officials have pushed for the WhatsApp ban since the company was bought Facebook in February. Those officials oppose Facebook -- and now WhatsApp -- because they're run by the "American Zionist" Zuckerberg.

"The reason for this is the adoption of WhatsApp by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is an American Zionist," secretary of the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content Abdolsamad Khorramabadi said, according to Haaretz.

While certain officials and censors back the ban, the Iranian government -- which has become more moderate since the election of President Hassan Rouhani -- has criticized the move. In a tweet on Iran's public-facing Twitter account, Communications Minister Mahmoud Mehr said "Government of #Prudence & #Hope fully opposed to filtering of WhatsApp."

Additionally, Haaretz reports that Mehr also announced, "The government is completely against the ban on WhatsApp."

Facebook has been blocked in Iran since 2009. The move came after protesters took to the social network to spread word of opposition against Rouhani's more hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has also had a contentious relationship with other social media, news sites, and e-mail hosts. Over the last few years, the country has shut off access to major international news sites, Google's search engine, and YouTube.

Since taking office last year, Rouhani has tried to cast himself as a more tech savvy and politically open leader. Recently, there have been several signs that he might be opening up social media and the Internet in Iran. Rouhani even encouraged his staff and ministers to join Facebook last September in a government-only endeavor called government-as-Facebook Friends.

While Rouhani has made some strides toward a more open Internet for Iranians, it appears the censor's ban of WhatsApp is a step back toward more restriction.

When contacted by CNET, Facebook declined to comment. We also contacted WhatsApp for comment and will update this report when we get more information.