Is Iran really safe for Jews?

Foreign minister Zarif: condemned Netanyahu’s ‘fake history’ (AFP: Kristof Stache)

Iranian Foreign Minister
Mohammed Javad Zarif has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
of distorting history by repeatedly saying that modern Iran, like
ancient Persia, is bent on annihilating the Jewish people. How could that be so, he claims, when Persia ‘saved’ the Jews on several occasions? Michael Rubin asks if Iran really respects Jews in Commentary (with thanks: Lily): 

Mohammad
Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, took to Twitter earlier this week
to castigate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for propagating
what Zarif termed “fake history.” The offense Zarif protested was the
Israeli prime minister’s decision to draw allusions between the story of
Purim and the present day. “To sell bigoted lies against a nation which
has saved Jews three times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history [and]
falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” the Iranian foreign minister declared.

Zarif’s
rebuke of Netanyahu was enough to win applause in some circles, but
those who buy into the myth of an Iranian haven for Jews should think
again.

Take
the modern day. How often have pundits talked about the Islamic
Republic’s supposed tolerance for Jews by citing the fact that Iran’s
parliament has a Jewish representative or that Iran is home to perhaps
20,000 Jews, supposedly the second-greatest Jewish population in the
Middle East besides Israel?

Let’s put aside the fact that no one
knows just how many Jews are in Iran today. The 20,000 figure has been
bandied about since the 1990s, even though many Jews continue to leave
Iran for Israel or the United States. And also put aside the fact that
the “second largest community” doesn’t mean anything when the difference
between the first and the second are several orders of magnitude. It is
akin to saying Finland is the second-largest destination for
sun-and-surf beach vacations if the only other choice in the survey is
Jamaica. What matters is that, under the regime that Zarif represents,
Iran has lost at least 80 percent of its Jewish population. That’s
generally not a sign that Iran is a welcoming and healthy place for Jews
to thrive or even live.

Praise for having a Jewish representative
in parliament is just as misplaced. When I attended synagogue as a
student in Iran, members of the Jewish community did not trust the
representative. His sole purpose seemed to be to pass pronouncements
from the government to the synagogues and to be cited to deflect
attention from Iran’s fairly horrendous human rights record.

Beyond
that, though, is Iran safe for Jews? It depends. Pogroms—as vicious as
any in Eastern Europe—characterized nineteenth century Iran. Then there
were the restrictive rules: In 1889, for example, the government
prohibited Jews in Isfahan from going outside on wet days lest rainwater
spread their impurity. Jews were also forbidden from touching food,
speaking loudly, or purchasing any goods in the market. (Daniel Tsadik
provides an excellent account of modern Jewish history in his 2007 book,
Between Foreigners and Shi‘is; Habib Levy’s Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran remains a masterpiece).

It
is true that, at times, Iran was a relative haven for the Jews. The
irony here, though, is that it was the regime that Zarif represents not
only overthrew an Iranian state that allowed its Jewish minority to
thrive, but also sought to close the door on the laudable regimes of the
distant past.

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2 Comments

  • How many Jews live in the 57 Muslim countries?
    I'm guessing its 32,000.
    5000 Jews live in the 22 Arab countries.
    17,000 Jews live in Turkey.
    9000 live in Iran.
    That's 31,000.
    I don't see any other Muslim countries Jews live in except a few Jews who live in the former Soviet Union Muslim republics.

    Reply
  • There remain no more than 9,000 Jews left in Iran. The community is essentially gone. As gone as it is elsewhere in the Maghreb and Mizrahi world.

    Reply

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