Jacob CampbellThe writer is Head of Research at Stand for Peace, a counter-extremism research group in the UK. He is also a Fellow of the Humanitarian Internvention Centre, Press Officer for Friends of Israel in UKIP, and Co-Chairman of the Ashraf Campaign (ASHCAM).
“Do you support the State of Israel?”
The answer to this question is my litmus test to determine whether a Middle Eastern political movement is worthy of my endorsement. On this occasion, I was posing it to a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the parliament-in-exile of the Iranian opposition.
“Absolutely not!” he replied. My heart sank.
“Israel is a state like any other,” he continued. “It has the right to exist, and to defend itself against terrorist thugs. Does this make me a supporter? No. This is a commonsense view.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a refreshingly unusual thing to hear an Iranian politician say. But was this merely a personal opinion, or the position of the NCRI as a whole? I wanted to know more.
And so, little more than a month later, I found myself in Paris, the stomping ground of the men and women (yes, women!) who have led the Iranian Resistance from exile since 1981. They had invited me to attend their annual rally – a spectacular event with more than 100,000 activists and a legion of parliamentary delegations from across the world in attendance.
I was welcomed by another NCRI official, this time from the council’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Aren’t you the one who writes for the Israeli media?” he inquired.
Uh-oh, I thought. I’ve been rumbled.
“Sometimes,” I replied, sheepishly.
“Yes, I recognise your face!” he exclaimed. “You are very welcome here. We enjoy reading your articles very much. Please keep it up!”
No lynch mob, then. That was a relief.
“Are you well connected with the Jewish community in the UK?” he asked.
“Not really,” I answered.
“That’s a shame,” he said. “I wish more Jews would come to our rallies... But I suppose it would help if we didn’t hold them on a Saturday.”
Having been shown to the press area where I was to be situated for the duration of the rally, I struck up a conversation with one of the organisers, who wanted to know how I had come to take an interest in the activities of the Iranian Resistance.
“Well,” I began, “I’m a Zionist, so of course I’m no fan of the mullahs.”
She smiled as I spoke, without so much as batting an eyelid at my utterance of the dreaded Z-word.
“We have common interests,” I explained.
She nodded, still smiling. “That makes sense.”
“I look forward to seeing you next year.” He paused for a moment, before adding, wistfully, “In Tehran, God willing. Next year in Tehran.”
Later, after the rally, I chatted with another of the organisers outside. He asked if I had enjoyed myself. I said that I had, and that I would like to come to next year’s rally as well.
“Well then,” he said, “I look forward to seeing you next year.” He paused for a moment, before adding, wistfully, “In Tehran, God willing. Next year in Tehran.”
Next year in Tehran. These words stuck with me. Was this a deliberate reference to the concluding words of the traditional Jewish prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem”?
I don’t suppose it matters. The sense of hope and yearning in his voice was the same.
Jacob Campbell is Head of Research at Stand for Peace, a counter-extremism research group in the UK. He is also a Fellow of the Humanitarian Internvention Centre, Press Officer for Friends of Israel in UKIP, and Co-Chairman of the Ashraf Campaign (ASHCAM).