Mainstream American and international media have barely been covering the peaceful mass protests taking place across Iran. Men, women and children in many major Iranian cities have taken to the streets to call for an end to the radical Islamic regime that has failed to provide them with basic drinking water, electricity, food, employment opportunities and freedom to live normal lives.
The radical Islamic regime in Iran has responded to these protesters with brute force and bullets. As Jews in the United States, who have always championed civil rights at home and advocated for human-rights causes worldwide, we now have the duty to speak up for the suffering people of Iran who—after 42 years of living under the brutal totalitarian ayatollah-led regime—are crying out for help. As Jews, we also have an ancient friendship with the people of Iran that dates back to time of their nation’s founder, Cyrus the Great, who freed them from Babylonian captivity in 539 B.C. Today, we as America’s Jews, must continue this proud tradition of standing with those in Iran who seek freedom from the oppressive regime holding them hostage.
While I was born in Iran, my family fled the anti-Semitic nightmare of the ayatollah-led regime 41 years ago. Many in my Iranian-Jewish community who fled during the last four decades were embraced by Southern California’s Ashkenazi-Jewish community.
As a young child who attended Ashkenazi Hebrew schools, I discovered that American Jews have always championed, “Tikkum Olam”— the Jewish concept of healing the world, or advancing social-justice causes and supporting movements for freedom throughout the world. The American-Jewish community in the last 60 plus years has been very vocal in speaking out not only against global anti-Semitism, but against the evils of hate, war and lack of freedom.
During the Cold War, was it not American Jews who were among the most vocal against the tyranny of the former Soviet Union and championed the cause of Soviet Jewry? Weren’t American Jews among those who proudly voiced support for and stood with Polish Solidarity union activists during their protest against the communist Polish regime in the late 1980s?
Weren’t American Jews among those who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nelson Mandela and his freedom movement against the oppressive apartheid system in South Africa? Didn’t Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and other American-Jewish activists not march arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and champion the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s? And even today, many American-Jewish congregations and organizations have proudly taken on issues of oppression that the Uyghurs face in China, the genocide that occurred in Sudan’s Darfur region and racial bigotry in many U.S. cities.
Today, I call on the American-Jewish community, which has long been a strong proponent of social-justice causes, equality and freedom movements, to support the noble people of Iran who are fighting to rid themselves of an oppressive, radical, Islamic regime. This cause for social justice and human rights in Iran is not a politically left or right issue; it’s an issue of basic human freedom and survival.
People in Iran today are protesting for better lives, free of the intolerant dictatorship that has been ruling them for 42 years. They want decent living wages, fresh running water, electricity, job opportunities, education for their children, proper health care and not to have their private lives infringed upon by Islamic laws. They want to live normal lives, without the fear of being beaten, shot, imprisoned or even killed by the regime’s thugs.
We, as Jews, are a people who for millennia have faced unspeakable violence, hatred, injustice, pogroms and even genocide. As a result, we have always spoken out in every part of the world in support of those who were downtrodden and oppressed. Today, our support for the peace-loving people of Iran should be no different. How much longer can we stand idle and not speak up while the regime in Iran not only slaughters and imprisons its own citizens, but whose leaders constantly deny the Holocaust and call for a second annihilation of our people in Israel?
More importantly, for Jews and non-Jews who love peace and abhor war, standing in solidarity with the people of Iran protesting today is a moral and just cause to support, because when those people eventually do overthrow their oppressive leaders, unnecessary conflict between nations will be avoided.
We, as American Jews—Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, conservative and liberal, secular and religious—have a duty to speak with one voice for freedom and in support of those innocents in Iran who want to liberate their country from a repressive regime. We, as American Jews, must today recall the gift of freedom that Cyrus the Great granted us from the bondage of Babylonian captivity, and stand with his descendants in Iran who are seeking international support to extricate themselves from their own yoke of radical-Islamic bondage and oppression.
Karmel Melamed is an internationally published and award winning Iranian American journalist based in Southern California.