Jewish Ex-Defense Official Under Fire For Stance on Iran´s Jews

Controversial ex-Pentagon official Dov Zakheim is drawing criticism for his statement claiming that the treatment of Iran's Jews is not as bad as some people may think.

Arutz-7 Staff , | updated: 6:34 PM

Zakheim, a former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, was quoted in The New York Times by columnist Nicholas Kristof as saying, “Iran doesn't treat its 20,000 Jews as wretchedly as its rhetoric would suggest.”

The assessment drew fire from Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, who said, "Persecution should not be relativized – a regime's human rights record should be judged according to objective standards, not whether its behavior matches its rhetoric. If Iran persecutes its Jews, then it should be recognized as a persecutor, regardless of Teheran's level of anti-Jewish rhetoric."

Kristof noted in his September 12 column that "Iran continues to be home to more Jews than any Middle Eastern country save Israel." Medoff pointed out that the size of Iran’s Jewish community is unrelated to the treatment of its members. “In 1937,” he said, “four years after Adolf Hitler became chancellor, Germany was still home to more Jews than any other West European country."

The Iranian Jewish community’s ability to leave the country is also not a given. The annual U.S. report on global religious freedom said that Iran’s Jews are "often are denied the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. With the exception of certain business travelers, the authorities require Jews to obtain clearance and pay additional fees before each trip abroad. The Government appears concerned about the emigration of Jewish citizens and permission generally is not granted for all members of a Jewish family to travel outside the country at the same time."

Israeli Farsi-language radio host Menashe Amir, born in Iran, told The Scotsman newspaper that Iran’s Jews can hardly be said to live in anything resembling a free society. "Every Iranian Jew who had the financial possibility or courage has already left," he says. "While there are Jewish schools, the principals and most of the teachers are Muslim, the Bible is taught in Farsi [Persian], not in Hebrew, and the schools are forced to open on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. So while the regime declares that there is freedom of religion, it is all just for the sake of appearances."

Activists on behalf of Iranian Jewry, many of them formerly active on behalf of oppressed Soviet Jews, say Zakheim’s comments serve as a dangerous fig leaf obscuring the treatment of Iranian Jewry. Former director of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, New York activist Glenn Richter recalls similar comments made by Rev. Billy Graham upon his return from a visit to the Soviet Union in 1982. Graham had said there was more "religious freedom" in the USSR than people realized. "It made it more difficult to convince the public that Jews were being persecuted there," Richter says.

Zakheim is known and remembered in Israel for leading the successful campaign to withdraw U.S. financial support for Israel's production of the Lavi fighter plane in the 1980s – leading to the cancellation of the project. In 2002, his candidacy for the presidency of Yeshiva University was strongly opposed by both rabbinic faculty members and students, who were concerned about his level of rabbinic scholarship as well as his actions toward Israel. He did not get the job.