Iran uses Western press to make a show of tolerance

Western media habitually fall into the trap of writing to please an autocratic ruling regime –  so it can make a show of ‘tolerance’. Under official pressure, Roya Hakakian herself (writing in the Tower) saw the late Bob Simon come back from Iran with a different story than the one they had set out to write. The latest example of Iranian manipulation was the regime’s demand that the Forward‘s reporter, Larry Cohler-Esses,request a letter of recommendation from the Iranian-Jewish leadership in return for a visa. The Forward should have rejected this demand, not just because it holds the Jews of Iran hostage to a favourable report, but that it assumes a worldwide Jewish network of influence. 

Iranian-Jewish author Roya Hakakian

Hakakian also observed that Tehran granted The Forward permission
to send its reporter, Larry Cohler-Esses, to Iran earlier this month
with a strange stipulation: Cohler-Esses was instructed to request a
letter of recommendation from the leaders of Iran’s Jewish community.
Hakakian pointed out the impossible constraint the letter placed on

The demand for a letter should have instantly alarmed the
Forward, for it was made based on the bigoted notion that the Jews run a
worldwide network which can instantly be activated. Why should an
Iranian Jewish leader be asked to recommend an unknown journalist for a
visa if not to generate a clear signal to the invested parties as to on
whose credit he was getting in and what was expected of him to return
with? The Jewish leader who vouched for the Forward was, it seems,
mortgaging his freedom in the hopes that Cohler-Esses would not print
what might have incited the ire of the regime. Has such a letter of
recommendation ever been asked of, say, the Economist or Der Spiegel?

Hakakian wrote that, while Iran’s Jewish population has dwindled, its
presence allows the Iranian regime to show “its capacity for
tolerance.” By claiming that it “separate[s] the affairs of the Jews
from those of the Zionists in Israel,” Hakakian argued, Tehran
distinguishes itself from the surrounding Arab nations that expelled
their own Jewish populations. She further noted that Hassan Rouhani,
Iran’s current president, sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews around
the world and made a donation to a local Jewish hospital, though the
“area’s Jews are long gone.”

These shows of tolerance, Hakakian observed, “have been made for the
benefit of Western audiences,” and have helped the regime
advance whatever policies it deemed important at the time. “Into all
this,” she concluded, “no reporter can step for a week and bring back
the truth, even a semblance of it.”

Shahrzad Elghanayan, a Jewish woman of Iranian descent whose grandfather was executed by the Islamic regime in 1979, wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post
this past April that the Jewish community in Iran is roughly one tenth
of the size it was 36 years ago. Elghanayan also argued that, while
Iran’s Jews may not publicly protest, it’s the result of “[knowing] the
rules and boundaries of coexistence.”

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