Mr. President, Please Call Tehran

Numerous articles in the world media have said Israel is preparing to make preemptive strikes against Tehran to destroy their nuclear reactors, but if they do, what will be the fate of the 30,000 Jew who live in Iran?

Shelomo Alfassa,

Shelomo Alfassa
Shelomo Alfassa
Arutz 7
A US Defense Department study entitled "Proliferation: Threat and Response" stated that Iran is seeking the full range of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and is expanding its missile program, which constitutes a direct threat to Israel. Numerous articles in the world media have said Israel is preparing to make preemptive strikes against Tehran to destroy their nuclear reactors, but if they do, what will be the fate of the 30,000 Jew who live in Iran?

Iran has desired to see the Jewish State destroyed for decades. In February, 2001, former cabinet member Dan Meridor said, "Iran has openly declared its policy is to destroy Israel, not to help the Palestinians, not [to discuss] various kinds of borders of Jerusalem. Simply the annihilation of Zionism and destruction of Israel...." Over the years, public statements have been made by Iran's leaders expressing a desire to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons and there has been a repeated Iranian rejection of the legitimacy of Israel's existence.

For many years, Iran has funded Arab terrorist groups, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with millions of dollars, money used with one intention - to kill Jews and destroy the State of Israel. Just this month, a British newspaper reported: "Iran has taken control of many Palestinian terrorist cells from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, giving them funds and orders to attack Israeli targets." The paper also reported that an Israeli security source said Hizbullah rewards Palestinian terrorists with $5,000 (NIS 22,000) for each Israeli murdered. The US Department of Justice and the White House acknowledged that in January 2002, when Israel intercepted the Karine A, a ship carrying advanced heavy weaponry to the Palestinian Authority, it was funded by Iran. In 2003, the US government said Iran remains "the most active state sponsor of terrorism."

Needless to say, the result of an Israeli attack on Iran would set the Muslim world on fire, and Jews living in Muslim countries - such as those today living in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and other countries - would be targets of angry Muslim militants. Jews living in Muslim lands are in limbo. Jews in Turkey have one of the best situations, as the government of Turkey is not an openly hostile one and there is no state-sponsored call to destroy Israel. Like Morocco, Turkish Jews do not face widespread hatred, even though there are obviously some groups in both countries that do hate Jews. The World Jewish Congress and leaders within the Sephardic community confirm small numbers of Jews also live in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The small group of Jews who live in Yemen are constrained in making contact with the outside world. This is the same in Iran, where Jews have lived for thousands of years.

The Jews living in Iran experience constant distrust, as Islamic authorities often consider them spies of the "Zionist state" or of "imperialistic" America, such activity being punishable by death. The Jewish population of Iran in the late 20th century was 80,000, of which 50,000 departed after the revolution in 1979, many leaving all of their possessions behind. According to the Nessah Cultural Center, a Persian Jewish center in Beverly Hills, the remaining 30,000 Jews of Iran live nominally happy, but comfortable lives. Jews are officially allowed to leave, but it is a difficult process. Jews who apply for a passport to travel abroad must do so in a special bureau and are immediately put under surveillance. They generally are allowed to leave only as individuals, not as a family, to prevent emigration. In 1998, Jewish businessman Ruhollah Kakhodah-Zadeh was hanged in prison without a public charge or legal proceeding, apparently for assisting Jews to emigrate. Some Jews who do end up in Israel or other countries arrive there after illegally fleeing Iran, finding that an easier path. The Jews who remain there are not actively attempting to leave. Like Jews in other Muslim countries, they are apparently comfortable with their lot.

Today, we might wonder if the remaining Jews of Iran are pawns in a global game of nuclear politics, one which looks ominously like it is coming closer to an antagonistic outburst each day.

What will be of these 30,000 Jews the day after Israel, the United States or Britain launches a preemptive strike against Iran, either on their own or in unison? Will the Jews of Iran become targets of angry Muslim mobs? Will they have their Torahs burned, their homes and businesses destroyed, or will they suffer a fate even worse? Iranian officials have said there is a difference between Jews and Zionists, and that their hatred for Western Jews is not a hatred for "their" (Iranian) Jews, but for the Western Jews who occupy "Palestine". They believe a reasonable person will understand how they deny hating Jews, yet want to obliterate the Jewish homeland.

A complex and bizarre situation exists in Iran, where Jews living as dhimmis - subjugated non-Muslims - are facing the dual-loyalty issue. Openly, a Jew on the street in Tehran won't recognize the State of Israel. Representatives of Neturei Karta, the small group of Jews who wave Palestinian flags and often make social calls to anti-Israeli Muslim dictators around the world, visited Tehran a few years ago and were greeted by the Chief Rabbi of Iran, Hacham Yousef Hamedani, and a delegation of the Tehran Jewish community. While in the country, the Neturei Karta members spoke at various synagogues and were guests of honor at a gala dinner, even making a pilgrimage to the home of the long-dead Ayatollah Khomeini, arch-enemy of the Jews during the 1970s and '80s.

Chief Rabbi Yousef Hamedani has spoken of the "ever increasing glory of the Iranian people," and once mentioned the "Shah's tyrannical regime considered its survival to be based on its connections with international Zionism and imperialism, and when Zionist organisations were trying to dictate our destiny, Iranian Jewry never submitted to these conspiracies...." One can find photos of president Khatami visiting with the chief rabbi, embracing him, and it makes one wonder: do the Jews in Iran speak as they do because, like in many other Muslim countries, they are in fear, whether they admit it openly or not? The question will remain an open one for now.

There are those, including some friends in the Persian Jewish community living outside Iran, who might criticize this writer, and defend the Iranian president, stating there is a power struggle going on inside Iran between hard-line clerics, led by Iran's chief religious leader, Ayatollah Khamene'i, and the moderate clerics, led by Khatami. Some might declare that Khatami is a friend of the Jews, but it's hard to be a friend to a people when you want to destroy their country.

Apart from their internal politics and desires, the world can see that both Khatami and the Ayatollah hold grim and analogous positions. One man might be more of a diplomat, posses more of a flair for politics, but they both display antipathy toward Israel. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has reported the Ayatollah has said, "Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region." The Ayatollah also stated: "It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region." However, those who say the president of Iran does not espouse these views are being selective in their listening. AIPAC also reported that Iran's so-called "moderate" President Khatami has called Israel an "illegal state," and said that "all of Palestine must be liberated." Khatami called Israel "a parasite in the heart of the Muslim world."

Ironically, because of seating arranged in alphabetical order, President Khatami of Iran and President Moshe Katzav of Israel found themselves seated next to each other at the recently held funeral in Vatican City. Katsav spoke briefly with the Iranian president in Farsi, even though Khatami later denied it. As mentioned in the title of this article, President Katzav, himself a Jew from Iran, needs to contact his community and see where they stand. A portentous scene is developing and tensions are on the rise. Khatami will allow Jews to emigrate, albeit with difficulty, but it can be done. President Katzav, call Tehran and ask the Jews: "Do you want to come home?" There may not be another chance.