The enemy next door: Iran and its Jews

Anti-Zionism has not always been the default position of Iran. In fact, in the Sixties, a group of visiting Iranian intellectuals was smitten with admiration for Israel’s kibbutz socialism. While cultural antisemitism has always simmered in the background, the regime’s opponents today are more likely to be pro-Israel on the grounds of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. In the ‘Enemy next door’ author Roya Hakakian, who fled the country 20 years ago, writes eloquently in Guilt and pleasure magazine on the complex and ever-changing relationship of Iran and its Jews.

In December of 1978, a chain of powerful knocks shook our courtyard door in Tehran. But the sound of the iron door rattling in its frame was not nearly as terrifying as the look on the face of the person rattling it. When my father finally buzzed the caller in, there was my Aunt Monavar, her face blurred behind a stream of tears. A greeting must have seemed superfluous to my father, who simply shouted:”What’s wrong, Monavar?”

“She erupted. The words tumbled from her mouth. They sounded tragic, severe, frenzied, although their meaning eluded me. My father and his siblings spoke to one another in the Jewish dialect of their childhood village in central Iran, a language to which I, born and raised in Tehran, was not privy. ”

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