Outing Iran: The Persian Jews


(Wiki: Former president Khatami visits a Tehran Jewish center.)

The roughly 25,000 Jewish people living in Iran constitute the second highest population in the Middle East (after Israel, of course). Two mini-documentaries can be found here and here. Another report for CBC by my friend Bahman Kalbasi, who now works for the BBC Farsi service, is here. (I should add that Bahman has been a wonderful resource for this blog during the revolution, and has also helped me understand the resistance long before the election uprising. My thanks to him). One of them states:

The fiercely Islamic Republic of Iran, is perhaps the last place you would expect to find a large Jewish community. But despite political use of anti-semitic, anti-Israeli slogans, Iran's Jews appear remarkably free. "Anti-semitism has never been the general policy of the Iranian government" explains Maurice Mottamed, the country's sole Jewish MP. There are of course "glaring differences" in treatment between the majority Muslim population and religious minorities. But remarkably most of the time Iranian Jews are "comfortably doing everything they want to do here. We can perform all our religious celebrations." This is an image very much at odds with fashionable Western opinion.

Among those "glaring differences" are what Richard Chesnoff pointed out:

The Jewish community is under constant surveillance, where teaching Hebrew is prohibited, where Jewish women are forced to follow the same modesty laws their Muslim sisters do, where Jews are barred from certain jobs and some imprisoned or hung on trumped up charges of contact with "Zionists".

Goldblog also wisely warns against mistaking Muslim hospitality for real toleration. Roger Cohen's response is here. It seems to me that the Iranian regime has murdered Jews in Buenos Aires, is infected with pathological anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah murder Jews, and its Jewish citizens are relegated to second-class status - but Iran is not Nazi Germany and less dangerous for Jews who live there than, say, Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It is a bewildering mix of sophistication and vibrancy governed increasingly by moronic, theo-fascist, torture-loving thugs. But what has happened recently vindicates Roger Cohen's sense that these two Irans are real and that the other Iran has been making strides - even if we have now reached a critical moment in which the two cannot co-exist without vicious oppression, brutality and illegitimacy.