Forty years since Victoria and 80,000 others fled

Forty years since the Iranian revolution, Lyn Julius in Jewish News assesses its impact, resulting in the exodus of three-quarters of the Jewish community:

 I never gave liquorice much thought until I met Victoria. This lady,
now in her 80s, had lived in Iran until 1979. Her late husband’s
business was to harvest the roots of the liquorice plants which
proliferate naturally near the town of Kermanshah, and to sell the
liquorice for food processing, tobacco or for its medicinal properties.

As soon as the Shah was deposed and the Islamic Republic of
Iran declared, Victoria’s husband lost no time in bundling his family
out of the country : Israel was a major client. Under the Shah, Iran had
good relations with the Jewish state. After the Islamic revolution,
Israel became the little Satan (the regime considers the US – whose
diplomats were taken hostage for 444 days in November 1979 – the great

Ayatollah Khomeini, architect of the Islamic Revolution in Iran

Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons so as to
dominate the region. It denies the Holocaust and regularly declares
its intention to wipe out the Jewish state. Together with its proxies
Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah, it presents the greatest physical
threat to Israel.

Victoria and her family abandoned their
house and their business. They caught a ‘plane to London. She was just
one of the 80,000 Jews who made their escape from Iran, many migrating
to the US, the UK or Israel.

Thousands of others became
hostages. Desperate parents sent 1,800 lone children to safety in the
US. Jews risked their lives to be smuggled out over the Pakistani
border. The route was treacherous, and several disappeared without

Forty Jews have lost their lives to the regime.
The wealthy businessman Habib Elghanian was executed as an example to
the terrified community.

For decades the regime has been
dispatching its enemies to Evin prison . Into a cell four by ten feet,
shared by ten prisoners with two blankets between them, was flung a
Jewish manufacturer of brake linings, Joseph Koukou. Greedy employees
denounced Koukou as a Zionist spy. Every day inmates would be randomly
executed by firing squad. Koukou was lucky to get out alive after
serving five years in jail.

Victoria knows of no refugee
from the Islamic regime – Jewish or non-Jewish – who has received
compensation. In London, she went to the Iranian embassy to register
the family’s lost assets. Their house was now a police station, but the
thought of turning up on the doorstep to order the policemen out was

The remaining 8,000 Jews are ostensibly free
to practise their religion, but any link with Israel is taboo. The
secret police controls what the community says. To its credit, the
regime has not encouraged popular violence against Jews, although there
have been isolated incidents.

Jews in Iran have fewer
rights than Muslims, are subject to unfair inheritance laws and
debarred from the upper echelons of government, the army and politics –
except for one token Jewish MP.

Unlike their rulers, the
Iranian people are generally thought of as open-minded and
pro-western. Victoria had nothing but pleasant memories of life under
the Shah. But Jews have suffered pogroms and forced conversions during
their 3,000-year old history.

Ultimately individuals pay
the price for political upheaval and intolerance: Every year on or
around 30 November , we commemorate the exodus of Jews from Arab
countries and Iran. On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution,
let’s not forget the innocent victims of this anti-Semitic and brutal

Harif (
and the S&P Sephardi Community will be holding a Jewish Refugee Day
event on 30 November with the band Eastern Beats. Booking www. article in full


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