The rise and fall of Zionism in Iran

Fascinating article by Lior Sternfeld in HaSepharadi about the 20th century split in the Iranian Jewish community over Zionism. After 1948, the question of Zionism became inseparable from any Jewish matter in Iran.

 The Alliance Israelite Universelle girls’ school in Tehran in 1947 (Photo: AIU/ Diarna)

Starting in the 1920s, sympathies towards Zionism and different
interpretations of Zionism started to split the various communities. For
example, Shemuʾel Ḥayyim, a leader in the Jewish community, a Zionist, and the
Jewish representative to the Majlis, had a harsh disagreement with another
Jewish dignitary, Loqman Nahurai. While Nahurai espoused the interpretation,
and perhaps practice, that Jews should join full force Zionist international
organizations, Ḥayyim believed Zionism to be an overall positive development,
but felt Iranian Jews should fight for their rights and status in Iran and not
forfeit it for any messianic dream. 

Ḥayyim published a newspaper called
haḤayyim (Life), in which he preached for integration efforts for the Jews,
participation in the political sphere in Iran, and the development of a
national consciousness. In a twist of fate, Ḥayyim was actually executed by
Reza Shah on account of the false accusations of complying with an attempt to
assassinate him. Consequently, any non-Iranian organized movement was banned
from operating in Iran. 

 In 1941,
during the Second World War, the Allied Armies invaded Iran. Britain and the
Soviet Union occupied Iran, deposed Reza Shah and placed his son, Mohammad Reza
Pahlavi, as the new Shah. In the first years of his reign, while British and
Soviet forces were still occupying the country, political forces from right and
left were allowed to resume their activities, after having been banned or
limited during Reza Shah’s period. This was the inception of the Tudeh Party,
the Iranian Communist Party, in 1941, and was also the beginning of
nationalist-right wing parties in the late 1940s and early 1950s (some of which
were decisively fascist) like SUMKA and Pan-Iranist. 

Many Jews joined the Tudeh
Party, in an effort to combat the social ostracism that had become a divisive
issue in the period in which Iranian national identity had started to take
shape. At the same time, we start to witness Zionist and Israeli involvement
in Jewish life in Iran. Zionist clubs and youth movements were active, yet,
Iranian youth did not engage in Zionism, as some Israeli officials had hoped,
as it was becoming more complex than it was in 1917.

 The twenty-five thousand
Iranian Jews that had immigrated to Israel around 1948-1951 were the poorest
and neediest of the Iranian Jewish communities. But there were myriad stories
at that time of Jews who had immigrated and returned, or immigrated and wanted
to return; the important thing to note, was that Iranian Jews overall had a
sober idea of what was waiting for them on the other side of the Zionist story
(unlike many of the other Middle Eastern Jews). 

Inevitably and undeniably,
after 1948, the question of Zionism and the state of Israel became inseparable
from any Jewish matter in Iran, no matter from which side of the
spectrum—Zionist or non-Zionist. It had become increasingly important because
of the function of Israel’s alliance with the Shah’s grand vision for Iran.
This vision aimed for Iran’s allies to be from the West. Israel, as a Western
country, represented much of what the Shah wanted for his own country. Iranian
Jews, by association with Israel and by extension, became more vital and
instrumental to his nation-building project, than perhaps he intended.

 Read article in full

Starting in the 1920s,
sympathies towards Zionism and different interpretations of Zionism
started to split the various communities. For example, Shemuʾel Ḥayyim, a
leader in the Jewish community, a Zionist, and the Jewish
representative to the Majlis, had a harsh disagreement with another
Jewish dignitary, Loqman Nahurai. While Nahurai espoused the
interpretation, and perhaps practice, that Jews should join full force
Zionist international organizations, Ḥayyim believed Zionism to be an
overall positive development, but felt Iranian Jews should fight for
their rights and status in Iran and not forfeit it for any messianic
dream. Ḥayyim published a newspaper called haḤayyim (Life), in which he
preached for integration efforts for the Jews, participation in the
political sphere in Iran, and the development of a national
consciousness. In a twist of fate, Ḥayyim was actually executed by Reza
Shah on account of the false accusations of complying with an attempt to
assassinate him. Consequently, any non-Iranian organized movement was
banned from operating in Iran.
The Alliance Israélite Universelle Girls’ Choir Tehran, Iran 1947,
Diarna Geo-Museum/ Alliance Israélite Universelle archives

In 1941, during the Second World War, the Allied Armies invaded Iran.
Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran, deposed Reza Shah and placed
his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as the new Shah. In the first years of
his reign, while British and Soviet forces were still occupying the
country, political forces from right and left were allowed to resume
their activities, after having been banned or limited during Reza Shah’s
period. This was the inception of the Tudeh Party, the Iranian
Communist Party, in 1941, and was also the beginning of
nationalist-right wing parties in the late 1940s and early 1950s (some
of which were decisively fascist) like SUMKA and Pan-Iranist. Many Jews
joined the Tudeh Party, in an effort to combat the social ostracism that
had become a divisive issue in the period in which Iranian national
identity had started to take shape.3

At the same time, we start to witness Zionist and Israeli involvement in
Jewish life in Iran. Zionist clubs and youth movements were active,
yet, Iranian youth did not engage in Zionism, as some Israeli officials
had hoped, as it was becoming more complex than it was in 1917. The
twenty-five thousand Iranian Jews that had immigrated to Israel around
1948-1951 were the poorest and neediest of the Iranian Jewish
communities. But there were myriad stories at that time of Jews who had
immigrated and returned, or immigrated and wanted to return; the
important thing to note, was that Iranian Jews overall had a sober idea
of what was waiting for them on the other side of the Zionist story
(unlike many of the other Middle Eastern Jews).
Inevitably and undeniably, after 1948, the question of Zionism and the
state of Israel became inseparable from any Jewish matter in Iran, no
matter from which side of the spectrum—Zionist or non-Zionist. It had
become increasingly important because of the function of Israel’s
alliance with the Shah’s grand vision for Iran. This vision aimed for
Iran’s allies to be from the West. Israel, as a Western country,
represented much of what the Shah wanted for his own country. Iranian
Jews, by association with Israel and by extension, became more vital and
instrumental to his nation-building project, than perhaps he intended..
Read more at:
https://hasepharadi.com/2019/03/31/between-iran-and-zion-jewish-histories-of-twentieth-century-iran/?fbclid=IwAR3Z09Yg3FEBzKQdeyB3WCtba-j7so20cjmtnkjDRLOUs9i09UXWR51vD8o

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