Month: February 2009

Same old, same old at the New York Times

Of today’s selection of letters published in reaction to Roger Cohen’s article in the New York Times (reprinted in the IHT) only the last seems to give an authentic picture of Jewish life in Iran. The newspaper continues a time-honoured tradition of denial and whitewash.

As political and media commentator Tom Gross said:

“Unfortunately this is just the latest in a long line of examples of the New York Times misreporting both Jewish matters – as they did most notably when they tried to cover up the Holocaust throughout World War Two – and of the Times trying to apologize for dictatorships.

“Cohen’s naivety (or is it duplicity?) is startling. It is a bit reminiscent of the New York Times reporters in the 1930s who used to report nonsense about how happy the Ukrainians were to live under Russian rule at the very time that Stalin was starving them to death.”

Re “What Iran’s Jews Say,” by Roger Cohen (column, Feb. 23):

While I can appreciate that the Jews of Iran have existed there (and at periods, flourished) for thousands of years, I was disappointed by Mr. Cohen’s romantic picture of the Jewish experience there today.

Over the centuries, many Jewish communities have lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors, working and playing together. But history cannot ignore the fact that positive personal relationships within the context of communities cannot be compared with a government with policies that specifically vilify and persecute its minorities.

Emily Loubaton
New York

Roger Cohen provides a refreshingly accurate sketch of the Iranian Jewish community. I am certain he will be excoriated by many who have no recent experience living in or traveling to Iran, and who are invested in denigrating conditions there.

But based on my more than 30 years of research in Iran, I believe that Mr. Cohen paints an entirely accurate picture in both this column and his other recent writings about his travels in Iran.

William O. Beeman
Minneapolis

The writer, a professor and the chairman of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, is the author of a book about how the United States and Iran demonize each other.

I was deeply saddened to read Roger Cohen’s column, as it is a reminder of the many centuries in which the Jews were minorities at the mercy of their host countries, tolerated at best and harshly persecuted at the worst.

It is sad to read that the small Iranian Jewish community, those few who didn’t emigrate to Israel or the United States, hung a banner congratulating the Iranian regime on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, when the Iranian president denies the Holocaust and calls for wiping Israel off the map.

Rachel Kapen
West Bloomfield, Mich.

Roger Cohen offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the doom and gloom that surrounds the nuclearization of Iran, its support of terrorist organizations and its meddling in neighboring Iraq.

It is worthwhile to recognize Iran’s growing geopolitical clout in the Middle East, and its importance to stabilization and redevelopment efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the search for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Iran could play the broker between rival Palestinian factions to reach a reconciliation that could eventually lead to the formation of a Palestinian national government.

Iran has a rich culture, and it remains widely misrepresented in the West. The Obama administration should extend a hand of friendship to those who are prepared to unclench their fists.

Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London

I was a 9-year-old girl living in Tehran when my family fled to America as a result of the Islamic Revolution. We didn’t leave Iran because of the weather, but because of a second-class existence transformed into a nightmare of religious persecution, which the few remaining Jews that Roger Cohen found have sadly internalized and accepted.

For Mr. Cohen to suggest that Iranian Jews have anything close to religious freedom or free expression in Iran is to discredit the long history of Muslim oppression and to deny the experience of generations of Jews who locked themselves in their homes during the Ashura holidays lest they become the target of the frenzied Shiite masses who filled the streets, or who cringed when they were called a word meaning dirty and impure and told to wait at the end of the line to draw water.

What about the Jewish schools and institutions that were systematically shut down after the Islamic Revolution? Or the fact that while Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are free to shout “Death to Israel,” Iranian Jews are forced to?

We must never forget the true history of Jews under Muslim regimes — my history.

Mojgan Cohanim Lancman
Fresh Meadows, Queens

Read letters column

Jerusalem Post blasts Cohen’s piece on Jews of Iran

Rafael Medoff joins the ranks of critics of Roger Cohen’s NY Times article, in which he gives credence to Jewish stooges of the Iranian regime. “Never trust what a Jew in a totalitarian state says to a foreigner,” Medoff writes in the Jerusalem Post:

“The state department’s most recent annual report on international religious freedom paints a picture of Jewish life in Iran that is at odds with Cohen’s description. The report says Iran’s Jews live in “a threatening atmosphere” and suffer “officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education and housing.” The government “limits the distribution of Hebrew texts, in practice making it difficult to teach the language.” Government pressure resulted in the shutdown of the Jewish community’s newspaper, Ofogh-e-Bina. And “officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda” permeates “official statements, media outlets, publications and books.”

“Three-quarters of Iran’s Jews have emigrated in the 30 years since the Khomeini revolution, and the State Department notes that some Iranian Jews are continuing to emigrate, “in part due to continued anti-Semitism on the part of the government and within society.”

“Obviously others choose not to emigrate. Sometimes factors such as family ties, poverty or hope for a change in government are sufficient to persuade people to stay in a country where they are mistreated. In fact, in 1937 – fully four years after Hitler’s rise to power – Germany was still home to more Jews than any other Western European country. That was not because they enjoyed Hitler’s rule.

“The situation of Iranian Jewry must not be turned into a political football. The dangers and discrimination that Iran’s Jews face should not be minimized to advance a particular policy agenda. Cohen urges the West to adopt an approach of “compromise” and “engagement” with Teheran, and it is possible the Obama administration will follow his advice. But if it does, one hopes that decision will not be influenced by misleading reports which see “civility” in Iran’s uncivil treatment of its Jewish citizens. “

Read article in full

Roger Cohen has it wrong on the Jews of Iran

The NYT’s Roger Cohen gets a hammering from Richard Chesnoff in the Jewish World Review for his ill-conceived piece(also printed in the IHT) on the Jews of Iran ‘living the life of Reza’. The truth, as with the remaining Jews of Iraq whom Chesnoff met in 1990, is very different (with thanks: Tom Gross):

“Ever notice how often the reputedly astute prove amazingly naive if not downright dumb? Take the New York Times’ much lauded op-ed columnist Roger Cohen.

” In a long rambling piece datelined Esfahan, Iran, wandering analyst Cohen recently told his global readers that the remnant of Iran’s once thriving Jewish community is doing just fine — in fact, it’s actually living the life of Reza side by side with Islamists, enjoying freedom of worship, business and family life and just dying to join other patriotic Iranians in angry anti-Israel street demonstrations.

“To back up his contentions, Mr Cohen quotes that esteemed expert Morris Motamed, the man who once served as the mullah endorsed Jewish stooge in Tehran’s rubber stamp parliament.

” It all reminded me of my 1990 Baghdad visit to the remnant of Iraqi Jewry — a Diaspora community older and once larger than even Iran’s. Like most Iranian Jews, the vast majority of Iraq’s 150,000 Musawi or “”Mosaics” wisely fled for Israel and the West in the early 1950s. Of course, they had to leave behind everything they owned. By the time I visited Baghdad, there were less than 300 Jews left in a city where Jews once comprised 25% of the urban population. These Jews also prayed in their synagogue on the Sabbath where their community president told me with great flourish (while Saddam Hussein’s omnipresent agents listened to every word) that he and his fellow worshippers were “proud to be both faithful Jews and loyal Iraqi patriots”.

” The truth was very different — as it is in Iran where 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”.

” Another journalistic sin of Mr Cohen’s piece was his insistence to use Iran’s supposed tolerant treatment of its remaining Jews as an excuse to take another of his nasty jabs at Israel. After all, Cohen tells us, perhaps Iran’s threats to destroy the Jewish state are merely 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.”

“He then goes on to ignore the hard fact that Iran is behind Hamas as well as Hezbollah and most of the terrorism that currently confronts Israel , the very terrorism that frequently obliges Jerusalem to invoke its “overwhelming force”.

Read article in full

Professor wants Hebrew books for Iraqi students

Could this be a new beginning ? The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that an Iraqi college professor has asked it for a shipment of Hebrew books, Haaretz reports:

Ofir Gendelman of the ministry’s Arab press section says the professor sent an e-mail three weeks ago via the ministry’s Arabic-language Web site. The professor said he planned to teach Hebrew and requested Hebrew literature and books about Israel.

Gendelman said the ministry would be happy to oblige and is awaiting the professor’s mailing address. He refused to divulge the professor’s identity or that of his college because of concerns for his safety.

Iraq and Israel have no diplomatic ties.

“There is tremendous ignorance in the Arab world about what Israel is, and they simply want to know more,” Gendelman said yesterday.

Read article in full

Rise of Al-Qaeda is driving Yemeni Jews out

(IsraelNN.com) The emigration of Yemen’s remaining Jews comes in wake of increased anti-Semitism, a rise in Al-Qaeda activities in the country, and the terrorist organization’s targeting of Jews, Arutz Sheva reports:

Ten new immigrants arrived in Israel on Thursday afternoonfrom the Yemenite community of Raida, where Jews have recently been harrassed by Muslims. The group included Said Ben-Yisrael, one of the heads of the Raida Jewish community. Several weeks ago, Muslim extremists threw a grenade into the Ben-Yisrael family’s courtyard. After receiving threats against his life, Said went to live in the capital city of Sana’a, taking his family with him. From there he proceeded to the Jewish State.

Yemen, which does not share diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, nevertheless permits the immigration of its Jews to any location, including Israel.

In an opinion piece in the London-based Arabic daily, Ash-Sharq il-Awsat, columnist Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed warns that Al-Qaeda “is transferring its men and furnishings to the mountains of Yemen.” Al-Rashed adds, “Yemen will be turned into a free-for-all, not only by the terrorists, but by all the countries that want to hound Al-Qaeda wherever it settles.”

Yemen’s criminal prosecution finished questioning 17 people charged with terrorism and affiliation to Al-Qaeda, and they are set to appear in criminal court soon, Yemen Online reported Saturday.

A judicial source stated that the defendants include “11 Yemenis, 5 Syrians and 1 Saudi national who is originally from Yemen.”

The prosecution immediately follows Yemen’s arrest and extradition of a Saudi man who rejoined Al-Qaeda after his release from the U.S. military’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The terrorist, Mohammad al-Awri, was arrested last Tuesday, and extradited to Saudi Arabia.

In a new audio recording released on Jihadi websites Thursday, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser Abdel Karim al-Wahishi, called on Yemenis to rise up against the government. The message also called on Arabs in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries to help their brothers in Yemen.

Al-Wahishi is Yemen’s most wanted fugitive, the Associated Press states. Leading Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Al-Wahishi was among 23 terrorists who escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006.

“Yemen is an important partner in the global war on terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas,” the U.S. State Department states. However, the country’s weak central government and an easily penetratable border have made Yemen fertile ground for terrorism.

Read article in full

Murder victim’s father will go to Israel if government won’t protect Jews (AFP)

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