Nearly 76,000 Iranian Jews moved to Israel since 1948 and Immigration Ministry officials and the Knesset committee for immigration are trying to find ways to encourage the remaining 25,000 to move to the Jewish State. One major obstacle is the comfortable position of many Iranian Jews, despite their children starting school every day with the chant “Death to Israel, Death to America.”
Marking International Human Rights Day, the Knesset Committee on Immigration discussed the situation with Israelis from the Turkish and Iranian Jewish communities in Israel.
“I ask Jews in Iran why they stay there, and they tell me they have everything they need,” Avraham Abir, a leader in the Israeli-Iranian Jewish community, told the Knesset committee. “In my opinion, the Jews there will end up like those in the Hitler era in Europe.”
He said that many well-to-do Jews in Iran live in 1,000-square meter homes and that moving to much smaller homes in Israel would represent a sharp decline in their standard of living. He added that another obstacle is that many who want to leave cannot do so without leaving their children behind, due to the government’s refusal to grant passports to those who have not yet completed army service.
Immigration Ministry official Chanoch Tzamir said a new eight million shekel ($2.2 million) program to encourage immigration (aliyah) from Iran is waiting for approval from the government. Knesset Member Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset committee, commented that Jews in Iran and Turkey are “hostages” in their native countries. A program three years ago that granted $10,000 to every Iranian Jewish family moving to Israel had some success. Aliyah from Iran tripled from 65 in 2006 to 200 the following year.
Jews in Iran are free to practice Judaism, and hundreds of Jews gathered in synagogues to light Chanukah candles during the eight-day holiday.
“It is safe for us in Iran, for Jews, but we always have to be careful. We know that we should stay with our community,” a young woman who called herself Rachel told the Christian Science Monitor recently. “We should not become close to Muslims. If we do, it will only be trouble.”
The Iranian parliament includes a Jew, who proclaims that “no idiot” would even imagine trying to attack Iran.
Despite their respectable standing, there is an undercurrent of fear. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, an official distinction was made in favor of Jews as opposed to “Zionists,” but Jews have not forgotten that a millionaire Jewish businessman was executed for allegedly spying for Israel.
In 2000, 10 Iranian Jews, including a minor, were sentenced to prison for allegedly spying for the United States and Israel. Jews in Iran also face the ongoing ranting of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who calls the Holocaust a “myth.”
Despite glowing reports of wealthy Jews in Iran, their economic condition has worsened under the regime of Ahmadinejad, according to several sources in the country. Rachel told the Monitor in a whisper, “You know, I wish I could go to Israel. It is my dream to go there one day and see it.”
In Turkey, the economic situation for Jews has worsened the past two years, Turkish-Israeli community leader Momo Oz Sinai told the Knesset committee. “Every time [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan or his ministers attack Israel, Jews see themselves as threatened. Erdogan’s actions create an atmosphere of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
He also reported that every Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, anti-Zionist rallies in Istanbul feature placards stating, “Jew: G-d tells you not to murder.” He also said that a weekly ritual is to burn Israel flags in mosques and in the center of the city.