Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bleak for Jews of Iran



"On the eve of the Khomeini Revolution, 80,000 to 100,000 Jews lived in Iran . Today, there are still more Jews in Persia than any other Islamic state. Despite the dangers and threats, about 25,000 Jews (it is difficult to accurately assess their numbers) still remain and show no signs of budging. In this regard, there is no difference between the Jews of Europe and the Jews of the Orient, as significant portions of both groups refuse to learn from the lessons of the past." (Prof. David Menashri, Tel-Aviv University)

Today 250,000 immigrant olim from Persia (Iran) live in Israel and as noted 25,000 remain in Iran as do thousands who stayed on in Germany and Poland - and other European countries where they have been persecuted.

Iran is now again ruled by Islamic priests and has shed it's pre-Islamic past, becoming a religious caste society which penalizes non-Muslims and imposes strict religious law and inequity on it's women.

During the reign of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Iran was a national, secular royalty. It had excellent relations with Israel and it's policies were favorable to the West and dissent was quickly squelched with it's hated secret police, the Savak.

"By the 1970s, Iran 's Jews formed the most affluent and most educated community per capita in the Jewish world." (Menashri)

The Shah did away with the special tax (Jizah) on Jews. The Jews did very well under the Shah but that has hardly been the history of Jews in Iran (in spite of those who try to tell us otherwise). There are many researchers who have documented the treatment of Jews and other minorities. An example are the mass conversions of 1839 (see Professor Bernard Lewis, "The Jews of Islam)

Shiites, though a minority in the Muslim world, a majority in Iran, have been much less tolerant - of the Jews pursuant to the informed writing of Lewis. Professor Lewis is a respected and also an acclaimed writer, just as Edwin Black is and neither one are considered foolish nor sloppy with their research.

Dr. Heshmat Kerman, Chairperson of the Iranian American Jewish Federation writes:

"Over 2,000 years of Iranian Jewry constitutes a unique phenomenon. In the ancient period, the Jews had a certain degree of autonomy and even maintained their own armed force . For practical purposes, the establishment of the community can be traced back to 733 BCE. There was also a substantial amount of immigration during Cyrus's time. Already with the Scroll of Esther, we have a depiction of the Jewish people and anti-Semitism." (Kerman)

"Compared to the illustrious days of the ancient period, the last 500 years have witnessed a noticeable decline in the status of the Iranian Jewry. The government of Shah Ismael implemented extremely rigid Muslim religious codes with respect to the Jews. These laws had a detrimental effect on Jewish property, status, and honor, impoverishing the Jews and stripping them of their rights." (Kerman)

"The arrival of the Alliance Israelite Universelle to Persia in 1896, the legislative revolution of 1907, and especially the rise of the Reza Shah dynasty brought tidings of hope to the community. Other communities ~W refugees from other countries - moved to Iran: the Bucharian Jews in the 1930s and the Ashkenazi Jews, notably the "Teheran children," during the 1940s. As noted above, their conditions improved under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi; the Jews prospered in a wide array of fields, including the economy, culture, and education. Needless to say, the miraculous founding of the State of Israel inspired Iran's Jews and enhanced their communal life. The Jews left the ghetto and dispersed among the affluent neighborhoods. The community board was freely elected, and the community ran its own schools, hospitals, and institutions, including their first senior-citizens home. A younger, more educated generation began to manage the community's affairs. A fair share of Jews secured positions in the Iranian academia and sciences. Moreover, the number of Jewish students enrolled in institutes of higher learning was well above the national average." (Kerman)

"However, the Islamic revolution put an end to this halcyon age , as under the new regime there is no longer any room for Judaism. Many have departed to Israel, the United States, and other countries. The remaining Jews face heavy pressure to convert, especially its younger members. In addition, the old anti-Jewish legislation has returned: for example, only a member of the Muslim faith may inherit property; a Muslim that kills a heretic may redeem himself and procure his freedom for $2,500; and travel abroad is restricted." (Kerman)

"It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this most virulent anti-Israeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country." ( Sephardic Studies )

"While Jewish communities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all but vanished, Iran is home to 25,000 - some here say 35,000 - Jews. The Jewish population is less than half the number that lived here before the Islamic revolution of 1979. But the Jews have tried to compensate for their diminishing numbers by adopting a new religious fervor." (ibid)

Jews in Germany didn't believe their neighbors would become part of the killing machine either. That is the way it is in Iran. Many of the Jews have lived there longer than their Iranian neighbors. In some respects some feel more Iranian than Jewish. But, that won't save them.

"I sat among a group of Iranian soldiers watching "Lebanon, My Love" ("Lobnan eshq-e man") in a movie theater in Shiraz. Of the two general types of Iranian action films -- killing Iraqis and killing Israelis -- it was the latter. People cheered as the Hezbollah members infiltrated into the southern Lebanon security zone and ambushed the Israelis. Every time a Zionist was killed, there would be loud cheers. When the "freedom fighters" approached an unsuspecting Israeli, those around me would shout "kill the Jew!" in anticipation." (From "Freedom, within limits" published in February 1997 by "Forward" in New York. See also "Singing the blues" about Iranian Jews in the 19th century.)

It is pretty obvious that the situation for Jews remaining in Persia (Iran) is very bleak and they would do well to heed history and leave.

Hank Roth

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