This article in the Christian Science Monitor – no friend of Israel – tries to steer a neutral course between whitewash and critique in its portrayal of Iran’s treatment of its Jews. But it is downright wrong to claim that the Jews were among the first to join in the 1979 revolution. (Such statements of fierce loyalty are being made by the community’s leaders for reasons of self-preservation). Likewise, the CSM is wrong to claim that ‘strong anti-Zionist undercurrents developed in Iran – and across the Middle East – since Israel’s creation in 1948. Those views came to a boil in Tehran after the 1967 war, when Israel crushed Arab foes and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai. That war marked a turning point in Iranians’ attitudes toward the Jewish state, and sometimes toward Iranian Jews.’ In fact there were cordial diplomatic and trade relations between the Shah’s Iran and Israel from 1948 onwards. The real turning point was the 1979 advent of the rabidly anti-Zionist Ayatollahs.
“The Iranian Foreign Ministry recently facilitated a day-long visit to significant Jewish sites in Tehran for the diplomatic corps. Privately, Iranian officials said the event was designed to reassure Iranian Jews, after unease over the December (Holocaust denial) conference.
“Jewish leaders portrayed themselves as ordinary Iranians, facing the same problems and with the same aspirations for their nation.
“The Jewish community was probably one of the first [minority groups] to join in with the revolution, and in this way gave many martyrs,” Maurice Motamed, holder of the one seat set aside for Jews in Iran’s 290-seat parliament, told the diplomats. “And after that, during the eight years of the imposed [Iran-Iraq] war, there were many martyrs and disabled given to Iranian society.”
“Every revolution is followed by some issues, problems, and restrictions [on minorities],” said Mr. Motamed. “Fortunately, all these effects have been completely removed in the last ten years.”
The diplomatic tour – with a number of Foreign Affairs Ministry officials – visited a Jewish school, a home for the elderly, a community center, and one of 100 synagogues left in Iran, during Friday Sabbath prayers.
“We have obviously had migration out of Iran,” says Afshin Seleh, a teacher of Jewish heritage with a white yarmulke skullcap, who says he loses two to three students per year in classes of up to 30. Upon the walls of the Jewish school are portraits of revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran’s current supreme religious leader.
“There have been different voices [coming] from the government, so people felt unsafe,” says Mr. Seleh. “But our existence here has always been separate from politics in Iran, and we always had peaceful coexistence with the Muslim community.”
“Part of that coexistence has been gratitude for the Dr. Sapir Hospital, a Jewish charity hospital that would have closed years ago, but for subsidies from Jews inside and outside Iran, doctors say.
“During the 1979 revolution, the hospital refused to hand over those wounded in clashes with the security forces of the pro-West Shah Reza Pahlavi. Ayatollah Khomeini later sent a personal representative to express his thanks. Ahmadinejad, too, has made a $27,000 donation.
“Still, the Iran-Israel standoff has spilled over into many avenues of life here, with varied results for Iranian Jews.
“Strong anti-Zionist undercurrents developed in Iran – and across the Middle East – since Israel’s creation in 1948. Those views came to a boil in Tehran after the 1967 war, when Israel crushed Arab foes and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai. That war marked a turning point in Iranians’ attitudes toward the Jewish state, and sometimes toward Iranian Jews.”