Tag: Jews of Iran

Don’t believe Iranian rabbi’s ‘hechsher’ for Ayatollahs

Although some journalists have refused to do so, parts of  the press  have reported uncritically the words of  Rabbi Gerami, who still lives in Iran and during a visit to the US  gives a kosher stamp or ‘hechsher’ to the treatment of Jews under the Ayatollahs. Karmel Melamed sets the record straight in JNS News:

Morning service in a Tehran synagogue

As an Iranian Jewish journalist who has been covering Iranian Jewry for more than two decades, I feel compelled to set the record straight about the dire situation Jews in Iran face today by sharing the simple facts that debunk Gerami’s false claims of a “thriving” Jewish community in Iran and expose his fraudulent hechsher for the Ayatollah regime.

In Ami’s story about the “thriving” Jewish community in Iran, Gerami fires off various religious activities and “religious freedoms” that the Jews of Iran are able to participate in as examples of the supposed “great life” they have there. Yet its editors failed to ask him about the countless anti-Semitic incidents that have been unleashed against Iran’s Jews by the regime’s thugs in recent years and were also never investigated by the regime’s authorities. The following is just a short list of these incidents in recent years:

  • In May 2020, the synagogue next to the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the Iranian city of Hamedan was firebombed by unknown assailants. While there was no damage done to the tombs, the synagogue did receive extensive smoke damage, and the regime’s authorities never investigated the case or arrested anyone in connection with it.
  • In February 2019, three antique Torah scrolls were stolen in broad daylight from the 125-year-old Ezra Yagoub synagogue in Tehran’s Jewish ghetto. The Iranian regime never investigated the crime or arrested anyone in connection with it.
  • In December 2017, two synagogues in the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz were vandalized by unknown assailants; the Iranian regime never investigated that crime or arrested anyone in connection with it.
  • In late 2017, an Iranian Jewish man was imprisoned by authorities after returning to Iran following his visit to his elderly parents in Israel. In late December 2020, he was subsequently released from prison due to his failing health. By law, the Iranian regime prohibits all of its citizens from traveling to Israel, and punishment for violation of this law is prolonged imprisonment.
  • In November 2012, Toobah Nehdaran, a 57-year-old married Jewish woman, was strangled and then repeatedly stabbed to death. Her body was mutilated in a ritual manner by thugs who had broken into her home located inside the Jewish ghetto within the Iranian city of Isfahan. Nehdaran’s gruesome murder was also never investigated by Iranian authorities and suspects were never arrested in connection with her murder.

Indeed, the list of anti-Semitic attacks Jews in Iran have encountered since 1979 is much longer than just these few incidents. Again, it’s shameful how Ami Magazine’s editors conveniently left out these horrific anti-Semitic incidents in their story with Gerami. Moreover, they failed to disclose the fact that Jews in Iran, including Gerami, are forced to praise the Iranian regime’s leadership to the Western media because if they don’t, their lives are at risk.

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VOA article 


Are Jews in Iran safe? Don’t ask a Tehran rabbi

What’s the point of interviewing a rabbi who lives in Iran about the situation of the Jews?  Are the Jews actually safe? They cannot always be assumed to be, writes Tabby Raphael  for the Jewish Journal of LA:

Jews at prayer in Iran

You don’t ask a rabbi who is returning to Iran and to the regime to speak on-the-record about Iran and the regime. You don’t ask him about Israel. You don’t even ask him if the Jews of Iran are safe. That is, you don’t ask any of these questions if you want to know the whole truth.

To expect someone who could face arrest back home (and put the safety of his community at risk) to speak truthfully about such issues is fantastically naive. That’s why I’m always surprised when, every few months, another Western journalist visits Iran and writes about Jewish life there, citing Jews who swear they’re safe and content.  

Gerami’s visit also exposed a separation in our local community: some Iranian Jews invited him to speak at their synagogues and homes, affording him the respect he deserves as a holy, learned man and as a fellow Jew. Others were concerned by some of Gerami’s actions, such as paying a mourner’s visit to the home of Qasem Soleimani, the notorious head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who was killed by a targeted American airstrike in Iraq in 2020. That same year, on Quds Day, Gerami appeared on Iranian television and slammed Israel, claiming, “Know that you Zionists do not represent Judaism and do not represent the Jewish people.” 

Don’t be surprised by such harsh words. For the past four decades, Jewish leaders in Iran have felt compelled to say such falsehoods (and worse) to maintain their safety. In the end, we don’t know the full story behind any of Gerami’s actions (and to what degree the regime forced him to do such things) and I, for one, don’t judge him for them. 

Clearly, the circumstances under which Gerami finds himself are messy and complicated. Are the Jews of Iran actually safe? Yes, and no. There haven’t been pogroms (thank God), such as those we saw in other Muslim countries like Iraq, Libya and elsewhere in the twentieth century. Jews are considered religious minorities in Iran; they’re free to attend synagogue; they have Jewish schools and cemeteries. Does that make them safe? It depends whom you ask.

For years, I believed that the regime wouldn’t dare harm its Jewish community. In fact, the only way Iran seemed to evade international condemnation for its genocidal hatred was to repeat that it was (and remains) enemies with Israel, rather than with Jews. And then, in 1999, over a dozen Jews from the southeastern city of Shiraz were arrested and accused of spying for Israel. The case of the “Shiraz 13” drew outrage worldwide and they were eventually released (in small groups). If you’re a Jew in Iran, God help you if you’re accused of being a Zionist. The first Jew to be executed after the revolution was a prominent businessman and community leader, Habib Elghanian, who was charged with “friendship with the enemies of God” (Israel) and shot by firing squad in May 1979. 

The case of the “Shiraz 13” was over 20 years ago, but last week, something deeply telling occurred: On October 12, an Iranian opposition group posted on its Telegram channel that a senior Iranian official had warned that if Israel “makes a mistake” (military action against Iran), the regime would take action against “the 10,000 Jews living in Iran.” 

Now this was unprecedented. That official, incidentally, was Mohsen Rezaee, Vice President for Economic Affairs, who previously commanded the powerful IRGC from 1980-1997. In a speech for like-minded fanatics of an ideological organization called Tharollah Tehran, Rezaee warned, “The Israeli government knows very well that if it makes a mistake, the regime will treat the 10,000 Jews living in Iran differently.” Some say it was a slip of the tongue. I’m just glad the truth finally came out. 

But here’s the most devastating part of the story: Immediately after Rezaee’s warning went public, the sole Jewish member of parliament (Majlis), Houmayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, took to Telegram to defend Rezaee, claiming the accusations were false. 

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Iran threatens to take its Jews hostage

Against the backdrop of rising Iran-Israel tensions and accusations by the Iranian regime that Israel has a military presence aimed at Iran in Iranian Azerbaijan, MEMRI reports that the “Iranian Regime Countdown” group, which is opposed to the regime, claimed that a senior official had  stated, in an October 11, 2021 post on its Telegram channel,  that Iran’s Jews are risk. If true, this is the first time that the regime has treated its Jews as hostages to its conflict with Israel (with thanks: Lily):

Vice-president Mohsen Rezaee: threats

In an unprecedented speech, Mohsen Rezaee, [President] Ebrahim Raisi’s deputy for economic affairs, took Iran’s Jews hostage, warning that they would be punished by the [Iranian] regime if Israel makes a mistake!

“Rezaee told members and directors of [the ideological organization] Tharollah Tehran: ‘The Israeli government knows very well that if it makes a mistake, the regime will treat the 10,000 Jews living in Iran differently.’

“Elements in the Islamic Republic [of Iran] have in the past threatened Israeli citizens and cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, in order to confront the Israeli threat, but this is the first time that a senior [Iranian] regime official is threatening the Jews, who have been living in Iran for thousands of years.”

“In previous statements, Rezaee threatened to capture 1,000 Americans as hostages in the event of a U.S. attack on Iran and to demand a $1 billion ransom from the U.S. for each of them.”

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Israel worked with the Kurds for 10 years

In the 1960s, Israel supplied weapons and instructors to the Kurds of northern Iraq.  In 1970 – 1, the Kurds assisted Israel in smuggling  1,300 Jews out of Iraq and over the border into Iran.  Eliyahu Tsafrir, himself of Kurdish background,  was the Mossad’s man in Kurdistan. Jonathan Spyer interviewed him for the Jerusalem Post: 
Eliyahu Tsafrir in the Kurdish mountains
As Tsafrir recalls it, “The Mossad delegation was in Kurdistan for 10 years. The delegation included military advisers and instructors. We supplied [the Iraqi Kurds] with weapons, including artillery, and we conducted courses there – from the section commanders’ course and all the way to the course for battalion commanders.”
The Mossad presence in Kurdish northern Iraq was logistically dependent on Israel’s then-excellent relations with Iran.
“People would fly to Tehran, and then with the help of the Savak [the pre-revolutionary Iranian intelligence service], they would enter the Kurdish territory.”
The Israeli presence was the result of the close relations forged with Mulla Mustafa Barzani, grandfather of current Iraqi Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani. Tsafrir arrived to command the mission in 1974. But from headquarters, he had already witnessed the benefits this connection had brought to Israel.
Eliyahu Tsafrir (Photo: J Spyer)
“In 1970-1971, we had used the assistance of the Kurds to get 1,300 Jews out of Baghdad. From there to the Kurdish area, and then to Iran, where the Jewish Agency was waiting to bring them to Israel. I was head of the department at HQ dealing with this.”
In 1974, then-Mossad head Zvi Zamir proposed to Tsafrir that he take up the leadership of the delegation in northern Iraq. His appointment was meant to last two years.
The benefits accruing to Israel from this mission were not solely in the field of Jewish immigration to Israel. Rather, the main purpose in return for the assistance given to Kurdish fighters was to gather intelligence, particularly on the Iraqi army.
“Iraq sent to every war against us a division, sometimes two divisions,” says Tsafrir. “Our interest was in an intelligence window, also by way of Kurdish officers who were officers in the Iraqi army. We activated them, also in the area of recruitment of agents, in order to achieve ‘coverage’ of the Iraqi Army.”


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Joe Schemtob’s story


Persian-Israelis defy ban to reach out to Iranians

Persian Jews in Israel have been keeping channels open with people in Iran, as demonstrated by a Voice of America  documentary series made in 2017. Now the series has  been posted online. This week, i24 News reports that a delegation of American Iranians are visiting Israel to demonstrate their solidarity:  (with thanks – Lily)


Broadcaster Menashe Amir surrounded by Persian memorabilia in his Israeli home

Amid long-standing and deepening tensions between Israel and Iran, some prominent Israelis with Persian roots have engaged in little-publicized contacts with Iran’s people and advocated for reviving the historic friendship between the two Mideast powers.

These Israelis are part of the world’s only Persian diaspora community located in a country that Iran’s Islamist rulers have banned their citizens from contacting. They spoke about their barrier-breaking conversations with Iran’s people and hopes for reconciliation as part of VOA’s Persians of Israel documentary series that was filmed in 2017 and published online Friday.

The Israelis featured in the series include veteran journalist Menashe Amir, who has been broadcasting to Iran in Farsi via radio and online for six decades; Rita, one of Israel’s most successful pop stars; Dorit Rabinyan, a novelist who has won international acclaim for writing about romances of young Persian women and a taboo-breaking Jewish-Muslim couple; and Dan Halutz, who led Israel’s military during two of its most challenging operations of the 2000s.

See i24 News Clip »


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