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Iranian Jews Stand By Ahmadinejad

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    Push From Israel, U.S. Groups Falls Flat Despite Ahmadinejad Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave Marc Perelman Fri. Jan 12, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 13, 2007
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      Push From Israel, U.S. Groups Falls Flat Despite Ahmadinejad

      Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave
      Marc Perelman
      Fri. Jan 12, 2007

      A campaign to convince Iran's 25,000 Jews to flee the country has
      stalled, with most opting to stay in their native homeland despite
      President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and anti-Israeli

      In recent months, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Israeli
      officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged
      Iranian Jews to leave. But so far, despite generally being allowed
      to travel to Israel and emigrate abroad, Iranian Jews have stayed

      According to the statistics compiled by HIAS, 152 out of 25,000 Jews
      left Iran between October 2005 and September 2006 — down from 297
      during the same period the previous year, and 183 the year before.
      Sources said that the majority of those who have left in recent
      years cited economic and family reasons as their main incentive for
      leaving, rather than political concerns.

      At the same time, HIAS workers in Vienna have detected a substantial
      increase in the number of Iranian refugees from other minority
      faiths, including Bahais.

      Since the August 2005 election of Ahmadinejad, a conservative
      firebrand, the fate of Iranian Jewry has become part of a broader
      diplomatic game between Teheran, Washington and Jerusalem.

      Ahmadinejad has repeatedly used rabid anti-Israeli rhetoric,
      threatening to wipe Israel off the map, and has questioned over and
      over again the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Tehran
      recently hosted a conference to "assess" the Holocaust, and last
      year a leading daily newspaper held a contest soliciting Holocaust
      cartoons as a response to the uproar caused by a Danish caricature
      contest of Prophet Muhammad.

      At times, as international tensions mounted over Tehran's nuclear
      ambitions, staunch opponents of the mullah regime have launched
      accusations of religious and ethnic discrimination against Iran in
      an effort to depict the country as a pariah state.

      HIAS declined to comment on its efforts to promote emigration, but
      some observers claim that the main reason Iranian Jews have chosen
      to stay is that they are, for the most part, free to practice their
      faith. "Iranian Jews have a comfortable Jewish life," said Meir
      Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst now living in Israel.

      At a time when Tehran and Jerusalem trade barbs and threats, the
      25,000 Jews of Tehran, Shiraz and Yazd attend packed synagogues,
      send their children to Jewish schools, buy their meat in kosher
      butchers and are even exempt from prohibitions on alcohol. This
      modus vivendi is the result of a compact between the leadership of
      the Jewish community and the Iranian authorities, whereby Jews are
      permitted to practice their faith as a community on the condition
      that they remain out of politics and do not speak out in favor of

      Some Iranian expatriates dispute the assertion that Jews are staying
      because conditions are good. Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the
      Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, asserted that
      the majority of Jews remaining in Iran are elderly and only speak
      Persian, and are naturally less inclined to emigrate.

      In the early days after the Islamic revolution in 1979, several Jews
      were executed on charges of Zionism and relations with Israel. About
      80% of the community left the country in which Jews had lived for
      nearly 3,000 years as descendants of slaves from Babylon saved by
      Cyrus the Great and enjoyed a "golden age" during the 1960s and '70s
      under the Shah.

      The situation for Jews improved in the years after the revolution,
      and Judaism is one of the recognized minority religions in Iran.
      Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians have rights enshrined in the
      Islamic constitution, and they each elect their own member of
      parliament and are entitled to worship freely but not to proselytize.

      The State Department's religious freedom reports have noted that the
      Jewish community in Iran is closely monitored by the Ministry of
      Culture and Islamic Guidance and by the Ministry of Intelligence and
      Security. In other words, Jews, like other minorities, face
      discrimination because of the inherently Islamic nature of the
      regime, which prevents them, for instance, from securing government
      jobs or becoming army officers.

      Seven years ago, a group of 13 Orthodox Jews in the southern city of
      Shiraz were accused of spying for Israel. The case prompted an
      international outcry that led to the eventual release of the Jewish
      prisoners after years of quiet diplomacy.

      Some criticism of the regime has proved to be unfounded. A few
      months ago, several conservative media outlets in Canada and the
      United States published reports claiming that the Iranian government
      had approved legislation requiring religious minorities to wear a
      distinctive sign, invoking charged memories from World War II. The
      reports turned out to be wrong.

      "Some people are trying to use the climate created by Ahmadinejad
      and the nuke issue," said William Beeman, an Iran expert and
      professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. "But
      Iranian Jews have a fairly vibrant communal life, and they can even
      criticize the regime within the constraints of the Islamic regime."

      Both Maurice Motamed, the Jewish member of the Iranian parliament,
      and Haroun Yeshaya, longtime chairman of the Jewish Central
      Committee of Tehran, who have regularly criticized Israel,
      nevertheless publicly condemned the president's views, the latter in
      an unusual letter to Ahmadinejad, sent in February 2006.

      Kermanian, of the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish federation, said
      that "given the situation and the current climate, some Jews there
      will say things are not too bad, but the totality of the picture is
      negative." He said that the recent uptick in antisemitic propaganda
      in books and the media had stoked fears within the Jewish community
      in Iran.

      The regime's anti-Zionist propaganda has at times provoked
      antisemitic incidents. Last summer, a hard-line weekly newspaper,
      Yalesarat, published photographs of people waving Israeli flags in
      synagogues to celebrate Israeli Independence Day. The paper falsely
      asserted that the synagogues were in Iran, prompting an assault on
      two synagogues. Motamed, the Jewish parliamentarian, described the
      vandals as "opportunists" in comments to the BBC, and said that the
      incident was defused by the Iranian security forces.

      Several times in recent years, Jewish burial areas were overtaken by
      local authorities for urban development purposes. A Western diplomat
      said that while antisemitic intentions played a part in the
      incidents, another factor was that, in general, burial places are
      less sacred for Shia Muslims than they are for Jews.

      For all his inflammatory rhetoric, Ahmadinejad has been careful not
      to single out Iran's Jews, and his office even donated money to
      Tehran's Jewish hospital.

      "The government goes to extra lengths to differentiate between the
      government of Israel, with whom they have fundamental issues, and
      the Jewish people, especially Iranian Jews," said Amir Cyrus
      Razzaghi, a Tehran-based commentator who is not Jewish. "There is a
      genuine interest to keep the Jewish community in Iran to demonstrate
      to the world that the government is anti-Israel and not anti-Jewish.
      This is especially important to a government that strives to be not
      only the leader in the Islamic world, but also a key regional and
      global player."

      The result is the only Jewish community living under an avowedly
      Islamic regime. In Tehran, where the majority of the community
      lives, there are six kosher butchers and about 30 synagogues. In
      addition, there is the Jewish hospital, which has a Jewish director
      and is funded by donations from the Diaspora, though the vast
      majority of its staff and patients are Muslim. Children attend
      Jewish schools where they are taught Hebrew and receive religious
      training. All principals are Muslim, the schools do not close on the
      Sabbath and the curriculum is supervised by the government.

      While Jews are allowed to obtain passports and visas to leave Iran,
      they have to submit their requests to a special section of the
      passport office and there are restrictions on families leaving en
      masse. Iranian Jews travel to and from Israel via a third country
      with the full knowledge of the authorities. Both sides had kept
      quiet about such journeys, but recently acknowledged them.

      "It might seem strange," said Javedanfar, the Israel-based
      expert, "but they can travel to Israel and other places, come back
      [to Iran] and have a comfortable Jewish life, as long as they keep
      quiet about Israel."



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