US, learn from tragic Jews in Iran

Habib Elghanian, the Jewish businessman and community leader executed in Iran in 1979

Why are Iranian Jews sceptical about the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a deal over Iran’s nuclear capability? Why do they take a hardline stance? Because they know what sort of regime they are dealing with, says Karmel Melamed in Jewish Journal. If Ashkenazim in the US understood what Iranian Jews have been through, they too would not trust the regime. In a similar vein – if Ashkenazi leftists in Israel understood the trauma  Jews had experienced in Arab countries, they would begin to understand why so many voted for Netanyahu.

During the last few weeks, many of my friends from the Ashkenazi
community have asked why countless Iranian Jews living in the U.S. such
as myself are opposed to the current efforts by the Obama administration
to renew ties, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the current nuclear
deal to officially grant the regime nuclear capabilities. The reasons
why we oppose a radical Islamic regime like Iran from having nuclear
weapons capabilities are numerous, but I believe if American Jews and
even non-Jews fully understood our painful experiences of living under
and escaping this evil regime, then they too would never trust such a
regime with the capabilities to create weapons of mass destruction.

In all honesty, I do not speak for the roughly 70,000 Iranian Jews
living in Southern California and in New York. I am merely a journalist
who for nearly two decades has been covering Iranian Jewry in the U.S.
and has had my ear to a community that still has not fully overcome the
trauma and tremendous hardships in Iran after the 1979 revolution. I
feel compelled to briefly share our community’s stories and experiences
in Iran as religious minorities in the hopes that anyone who values life
and liberty in America will finally wake up and realize that the
ayatollahs in Iran can never be trusted.

Over the past 36 years, some of our friends in the Ashkenazi community
have slowly discovered our agonizing experiences of fleeing or leaving
Iran after the 1979 revolution. But because of remaining language and
cultural barriers in the Iranian-Jewish community, our Ashkenazi
brethren have not fully realized the depth of our wounds suffered at the
hands of the ayatollahs ruling Iran with iron fists. From 1925 to 1979,
under the Pahlavi kings, Iran’s Jews and other religious minorities
were able to enter society as productive and educated citizens,
prospering and living in relative peace within the Muslim majority

In my opinion, the real nightmare for Iran’s Jews began in May 1979,
when our community’s beloved leader, Haji Habib Elghanian was executed
by the current Iranian regime on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel
and the United States. After the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran,
Elghanian returned to the country from the U.S. because of his concerns
for the safety of the nearly 80,000 Jews who lived in Iran. Sadly, the
new radical Islamic leaders in Iran promptly arrested Elghanian, gave
him a brief sham trial and executed him by a firing squad for being “an
enemy of the state.”

The news of his execution sent shock waves across Iran’s Jewish
community, in which many could not believe that such a prominent
community leader was suddenly executed for no reason. Elghanian’s
execution sparked a mass exodus of Jews out of Iran, many of whom were
largely scrambling to sell their successful businesses and numerous
assets in Iran at near bargain prices in order to escape this new
totalitarian radical regime in Iran. Some even fled Iran leaving behind
millions in assets and properties. The vast majority of the Jews of Iran
at that time realized that if this new Islamic regime had no value for
the life of one of their leaders, then their own lives were in imminent
jeopardy. Yet Elghanian’s execution was only the first of many more
Jewish arrests, executions and killings under the Iranian regime’s new

Life in Iran under Khomeini’s radical Islamic regime left Jews and
other recognized religious minorities as second-class citizens. Other
religions such as the Baha’i faith were not officially recognized by the
Iranian regime; Baha’is had zero legal rights or protections. The new
Islamic regime gradually took control of or expropriated Jewish schools,
institutions, Jewish private businesses and Jewish properties under the
pretext of the regime seeking to give back to Iran’s “underprivileged”

In the public sector under the regime’s radical Islamic laws, Jews in
Iran since 1979 and up to today face laws exposing them to constant
persecution, discrimination, humiliation and even surveillance, their
activities closely monitored by the Iranian intelligence service. Jews
and other religious minorities have limited rights in practicing their
religion, cannot build new houses of worship and are restricted from
participating in many business and social activities. For example, Jews
are prohibited from teaching their religion to their children if the
education will prevent their children from converting to Shia Islam in
the future. Jewish schools in Iran cannot be shut down for the Sabbath,
and the teaching of the Hebrew language to young Jews is strictly
prohibited by the Iranian regime, except for learning certain prayers.

Likewise, Jews and other religious minorities are barred from all
military positions or any high positions of authority in Iran —
including in their own Jewish schools. In addition, employment
discrimination in the public and private sectors against Jews and other
religious minorities is commonplace in Iran and not legally prohibited.

Moreover, civil laws in Iran today generally prevent Jews and other
religious minorities from gaining any form of “superiority” over Muslims
— even in the case where non-Muslims in Iran cannot own or build
buildings taller than buildings owned by their Muslim neighbors!

The laws of inheritance in Iran today are even more discriminatory
against Jews and other religious minorities. According to an April 2001
religious edict issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
any religious minority who converts to Islam can claim the entire
inheritance of their deceased parent, spouse or relative, while their
non-Muslim relatives will receive nothing. A Muslim woman who marries a
Jew or other non-Muslim faces the death penalty; any Muslim who converts
out of their faith also faces death by the regime. Even in matters of
civil law in which a person’s family is entitled to a monetary
compensation or “blood value” for intentional or accidental killing a
non-Muslim, there is discrimination in Iran. According to the Iranian
regime’s civil code, the official “blood value” or life of a Jew,
Christian or Zoroastrian is worth only one-eighth that of a Muslim.
Therefore, the family of the non-Muslim who is killed may obtain only
one-eighth of the monetary compensation from the killer.

Also, while religious minorities in Iran such as Jews are granted a
member of parliament, that person is merely a figurehead for Western
media propaganda, and has no actual authority or voice on behalf of each
religious minority group.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local
Iranian-Jewish activist, since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or
assassinated by the Iranian regime’s agents, 12 Jews have disappeared
after being arrested for attempting to flee the country, at least two
Jews died while in custody, and 11 Jews have been officially executed by
the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the
popular Yousef Abad synagogue in Tehran, had his eyes gouged out before
he was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, the report
stated. In 2000, 13 Jews living in Iranian city of Shiraz were facing
imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying
for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not
executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released as a
result of pressure from American Jews and European human rights
activists. Yet, the persecution of Jews and Christians in Iran still
endures today and will not cease until there is regime change in Iran.

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Iran projects rosy version of Jewish history

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