Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Mystery Of Iran's Jews: Not Such A Mystery (Updated))

Roger Cohen, writing for The New York Times, believes
Still a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.
While it is not clear towards which facts Cohen is more biased, Holocaust denial in Iran is more than just inflammatory rhetoric--and when a government-financed TV show appeared in Iran that allegedly admitted that the Holocaust took place, people lauded this sympathetic program that could not have appeared with the government's permission.

AllahPundit had a post that indicated that praise for the program was badly misplaced:
Reader Niko K. writes below that a Spiegel story on the miniseries sharply contradicts the AP’s account. So sharply, in fact, that I’m wondering now if the AP story is a deliberate whitewash. Writes Niko:

The article has it all wrong, and also the Wall Street Journal article that appeared earlier.

Mohammed Reza Kazemi cleared up the matter in a recent SPIEGEL article (link in German only, sorry). Main points:

* the major point of the series is that it was allegedly the German Jews themselves who collaborated with Hitler to kill those Jews who opposed the re-settlement of Palestine

* for example, a plot line shows that a Jewish researcher is in possession of documents that prove the connection between Hitler and Zionists

* the credits of each episode feature the work of anti-Semite Roger Garaudy as a “historical source”

* “historical adviser” to the series is Holocaust denier Abdollah Shahbazi who openly admits in his blog that he’s a denier

* director and screenwriter Hassan Fatthi alleged to SPIEGEL that according to “historical evidence” a majority of Hitler’s victims were those who opposed the re-settlement of Palestine

Cohen takes his job as an apologist for Iran very seriously, resolving the contradiction between Iranian threats and rhetoric with "Iranian warmth":
That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian TV, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it’s because I’m convinced the “Mad Mullah” caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 — a position popular in some American Jewish circles — is misleading and dangerous.

...Double standards don’t work anymore; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran’s scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel’s bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace — and engagement with Tehran — will have to take account of these points.
But there are other points to take into account as well--for instance, what Iranian Jews say about Iran after they leave. In 2007 Yedioth Ahronoth ran a Hebrew article by Ariela Ringel Hoffman featuring interviews with Jews who had escaped from Iran, which I summarized in a post: Iranian Jews Speak Out!
o Hoffman describes the situation [minimal Jewish emigration] as a conflict between fear of life in Iran and the ability to adapt and lead a normal life there; between the worry of leaving everything behind and the desire to lead a new life in Israel.

o According to Jeff Kaye, an official of the Jewish Agency, there good reason to worry about the fate of the Jews of Iran--the same reasons that pushed Israel to bring Jews out of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to Israel or the US exist also in Iran.

o One Iranian Jew interviewed by Hoffman said that Jews in Iran know they are sitting on a powder keg--at least half of them think that either Israel or the US will attack Iran's nuclear reactors. And when they do, the Jews of Iran will pay the price. Even without encouragement from the government, the Iranians on the street will take it out on the Jews.

o Another Iranian Jew tells Hoffman that it was not the threat of war that brought him to Israel, but the desire to live as a Jew. "There, it is difficult to keep Mitzvot, to keep Kosher, to pray and to learn about Judasim. On Shabbat the children have to go to school--everything there is more difficult.

o In Iran, serving in the army is mandatory. Many Jews avoid service by paying someone off--something that is not limited to the Jews alone. One who ended up serving in the army recounts how the Iranians who served were religious and treated him like someone impure, and gave him the hardest jobs. Though service is for 24 months, after 20 months he got disgusted and deserted.

o The problem is that the Iranian Jews don't want to leave, I say to him [Yossi Shraga]. That is true, he says--they may not say it, but that does not free us. This is similar to the situation the Jews faced in Europe before the rise of the Nazis. Jews have the tendency, says Shraga, to believe that everything will turn out all right. But back then, there was no Jewish state, no government. Today there is, and we will not be able to forgive ourselves if something happens.
Read the entire post.

Some of those interviewed said that conditions in Iran have improved; some thought conditions were not so terrible--and then there is one interviewee (those interviewed are not mentioned by their actual names out of fear for family left behind) who said
"I can tell you, based both on personal experience and on what I hear from friends, that there are places [in Iran] where Muslims have already divided among themselves the homes and property of their Jewish neighbors. They say that if there will be a war, the first thing they will do is slaughter the Jews."
Before bragging about "a bias toward facts over words," perhaps Cohen should actually talk to Iranian Jews who are free to express how they feel.

I'm familiar with the synagogue and attended it when I lived in Isfahan. I chatted with some of the university-aged students who had taken shelter in an attached guesthouse because, as Jews, they were beat up in the university dormitories. Men and women both referred to the Jews' representative in the Parliament as a flunky for the regime, and would not discuss problems or issues when he was around. Several would say one thing in the synagogue, but when we went to parks on took walks through the city, they would bend over backwards to make clear that they cannot talk freely in the synagogue since the walls have ears. The same sentiment was expressed at synagogues in Tehran and Shiraz. Cohen, however, talks to him as the authority and takes his word that he is not a quisling. True, Jews are better of in Iran than in many neighboring countries, but there is a reason why their number has dropped by 80% over the last three decades. Cohen simply appears on a propaganda tour; parachuting in, an eager recepticle for his regime minders. It should not surprise that his column now graces the pages of the regime's mouth piece, The Tehran Times.

You'd think after the Grey Lady would have learned her lesson after, a few years ago, the New York Times correspondent visited Tehran and quoted a University of Tehran professor talking about domestic protests. The correspondent was simply unaware that the man he quoted was known to every academic who went into Iran as the person in charge of 'minding' foreign visitors to Iran.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad

[Hat tip: Best of the Web]

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