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Iranian Jews in U.S. Reject Invitation to Meet Rouhani

Members of the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S. refuse meeting with new Iranian president despite his recent moderate comments.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/24/2013, 5:45 AM

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
Reuters

Members of the Iranian Jewish community in the United States have refused an invitation to meet with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, despite his recent moderate comments, reports the Jewish Week.

The decision to reject Rouhani’s invitation for a meeting during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly came after considerable discussion among the leadership of the Iranian Jewish community in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend.

“The impetus of our decision was that when the president had a chance to redeem himself on the question of the Holocaust, he did not do that,” a leader of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in New York told the Jewish Week.

He was referring to Rouhani’s response, when asked by an American journalist whether he believed the Holocaust was a historical fact. The president chose to avoid a direct reply, saying he was a politician, not a historian.

In addition, Sam Kermanian, senior adviser to the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, noted that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, when asked a similar question about the authenticity of the Holocaust, responded by saying that Iran condemns all murders, including “the murder of Palestinians by Israelis.”

“To compare accidental deaths to systematic murder shows that they don’t understand the world’s sensitivities to such a horrific event,” Kermanian said.

The New York and Los Angeles groups, made up primarily of prominent businessmen, are separate but seek consensus on major issues.

A third factor, Kermanian added, was Rouhani choosing to bring to the U.S. with him Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, a 48-year-old doctor who has been an outspoken critic of Israel.

The concern was that Sedgh would be used as a propaganda tool, castigating Zionism and Israel’s policies toward PA Arabs, noted the Jewish Week.

American-Jewish Iranians are in a delicate position, deeply concerned about the fate of the 20,000 Jews still in their homeland, noted the report. The leaders in the U.S. do not want to offend Tehran by rejecting the meeting with Rouhani, but they are unwilling to hold a meeting with him for fear that it would be misinterpreted and actually used to mislead the Obama administration and U.S. public into thinking the Iranian Jewish community has fallen for Rouhani’s charm initiative.

Rouhani, who the West as described as a moderate, has hinted since his election that he would be willing to reach a deal regarding his country’s nuclear program. He recently surprised Jews around the world by tweeting a Rosh Hashanah greeting. Foreign Minister Zarif later tweeted a greeting of his own but, when asked whether Iran’s new government would stop denying the Holocaust, replied by saying, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”

The Iranian Jewish leaders told the Jewish Week they had hoped Rouhani would offer some specific proposals or expand the freedom of the Iranian people.

“But we have not seen anything yet,” a local leader said.

The decision not to meet with Rouhani was endorsed by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who told the Jewish Week that Rouhani was “a master of charm and deception.”

“He had an opportunity to send a strong signal simply by answering [the Holocaust question] in a different way. The fact that he wouldn’t say it was an historical fact sends a clear signal to everybody,” said Hoenlein.

Hoenlein noted that despite Rouhani’s more benign rhetoric, asserting that he seeks dialogue with the U.S. and a peaceful resolution to the confrontation with Washington, “he and his officials have said they are not going to stop their nuclear program.”

The local Iranian Jewish leaders said that if invited, they might, under certain conditions, agree to meet with Sedgh, the Jewish parliament member, but as one said, “We are hoping he won’t ask.”