Karmel Melamed interviews Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
Karmel Melamed interviews Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
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Exiled Iranian prince: ‘There are those who believe in death’

The “eye of the octopus,” the Islamic regime in Iran, must be addressed, Reza Pahlavi told JNS in an exclusive, far-ranging interview.

Iran’s exiled crown prince Reza Pahlavi, who lives in Great Falls, Va., is one of the leading Iranian opposition leaders, who has advocated for more than four decades for a free, secular and democratic government in Iran, with the overthrow of the current totalitarian Islamic regime that rules the country.

Last April, he became the most senior Iranian figure to visit Israel. On the social network X, where his profile states that he is an “advocate for a secular democratic Iran,” Pahlavi has written that Hamas is “a brutal terrorist organization that in addition to terrorizing innocent Israeli civilians has violently suppressed the Palestinian people” and that “Iranians are tired of having their national resources and wealth plundered by the Islamic Republic to be sent to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”

On Jan. 30, the prince spoke at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and called the Islamic Republic a “common Goliath” that “two great nations, Iran and Israel, are facing.” Trying to appease the bully of gigantic biblical proportions “is futile,” he added. “Now it is time to give David a chance. The Iranian people are today’s David fighting to bring freedom to Iran and peace and prosperity to the entire region.”

Pahlavi sat down with JNS the day after that speech to discuss Iran, Israel, Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack and Iranian-Jewish relations worldwide. 

Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and style.

Q: As someone who has reached out to Israelis and Jews of late, and who visited Israel last year and just spoke at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, what is your message to Jews worldwide after Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel—the worst antisemitic massacre since the Holocaust?

A: Iranians throughout history have never sought conflict or war. We believe in good neighborliness and peace. First, because we know that we will benefit from it but also because we understand how important it is for us to work with others.

That’s particularly true in the 21st century when it has become even more obvious that strategic partnership with countries with common interests is so vital to progress, development, modernity and prosperity. This can only be achieved by those who believe in peace.

But there are those who believe in war. There are those who believe in death. They justify their ends by these means. Like oil and water, they don’t mix.

The first message is to those of us who are like-minded, to know that we have a common enemy and a common threat. And it’s a serious threat. The enemy, the Islamic regime in Iran, is committed to the max to do their evil deeds. The only way to counter that is to be united, to work together and to solve the problem.

The problem is to basically neutralize and eliminate the enemy because as long as it exists, this will continue. I’ve warned the world many, many times of the consequences of allowing this regime to continue to exist. It has had its fingers in just about every problematic area that the world had to deal with, starting with radicalism, terrorism, interfering in the affairs of their neighbors and the nuclear threat.

We’re talking about the people of Iran who are not represented by this regime. This is a regime that does not even believe in Iran in the first place. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Iran is not important. Islam is what is important.” For the regime, it was about using Iran as a platform to launch its revolution and trying to export its ideology worldwide, not about the Iranian people.

Then we see the regime’s proxies. I think a lot of it is due to an absence of strong leadership in the West and a weakness that is attempting some kind of appeasement of the Islamic regime in Iran. This has only incentivized the other side to bring it up another notch.

The world has to understand—and I’m sure the Israelis first and foremost understand, and the Jewish community obviously understands—that the eye of the octopus must ultimately be addressed.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis are the tentacles of this regime that have been operating for more than four decades internationally, beyond our own region. The only way to put an end to all of this is to eliminate the source of the problems.

We are all in the same boat in dealing with this common enemy.

Q: Since Oct. 7, many non-Jewish Iranians have turned out to rallies in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere to denounce antisemitism and support Israel. Your wife was among many Iranians who attended the Nov. 14 “March for Israel” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Can you explain this phenomenon coming from Iranians in the diaspora, including the fact that many bear Iran’s traditional national flag, the “Lion and Sun”?

Reza Pahlavi
Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Photo by Karmel Melamed.

A: Iranians who are broadly aware of Iran’s civilization know of 2,700 years of the existence of Iranian Jewry and that there is a biblical relationship with the Jewish people.

Iranians recognize that and know how much it is in contrast to the Islamic regime’s antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric, which it kept brandishing as its mantra from day one referring to the “great” and “little” Satans as its foes. 

We saw how people in Iran would try to avoid stepping on the American and Israeli flags placed at the entrances of Iranian universities. That’s a direct sign they are telling the world that they are not what the regime wants them to be. They are different. 

Let’s not forget what happened after Al-Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11. Many in the Middle East celebrated, but Iran was the only country in which people held candlelight vigils in support of and sympathy for the victims.

That is consistent with where we stand as a nation. In this case, I think there is no exception to that principle. Iranians understand what is important for us and it ties back to our common values of defending liberty and peace as opposed to the warmongering Islamic regime. The Iranian people don’t want that.

They are saying, ‘We have no prejudice against any culture, nation or religion. We stand united because we need to be united and show the image of ourselves to the world.”

Q: In 2022, the Mahsa Amini uprising took place throughout Iran with thousands of citizens protesting against the current Islamic regime there. Israelis at that time spoke out and demonstrated in support of the people of Iran. There were even a number of wall murals created throughout Israel supporting the protesters in Iran. How impactful was Israeli support for the people of Iran and Iranians living outside of Iran during that time?

Reza Pahlavi
Karmel Melamed (left) with Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

A: I’m glad you raised this point because I wanted to emphasize how much impact social media has on the dialogue and in connecting citizens of a country with one another, and with the rest of the world.

These are the kinds of tools that young Iranians, young Israelis and others have today to talk to each other.

They are using different platforms, whether it’s Instagram, Tik Tok or whatever else is out there for them. I noticed on various social media platforms that Israelis have seen the sympathy, awareness and mutual support that Iranians show them and Iranians have noticed the same that Israelis show them.

It is very important to stress that this is the foundation for the future relationship between Iran and Israel because it shows that it’s not just some government making decisions about policy. This is what the citizens of these countries are asking for and what they need.

They are calling for better relations and they ask for policy that leads us to work together. That’s the beauty of it because most decisions in the 20th century—whether during the Cold War or post-COVID-19—were made by governments crafting foreign policy from the top down.

The world is now evolving in a different direction. Today, it’s the demands in the streets of most countries that compel or propel decision-makers to respond.

That brings us to the situation we currently face. Why is there so much frustration about U.S. policies toward Iran? Because it’s almost like throwing the people of Iran, who share the same values, under the bus. How can this possibly be the solution?

What tips the balance is for the world to know that Iranians, Israelis and many others in the region think alike in terms of how we can all benefit from this change. The solution to all of the problems ultimately is getting rid of the regime in Tehran right now.

Reza Pahlav
Karmel Melamed interviews Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Q: You’ve spoken out for many years about the current regime’s horrific human rights violations against the people of Iran. Given the common Jewish and Iranian history, why haven’t Iranian opposition groups ever approached the U.S. Jewish community—which for nearly 70 years has been involved in social justice and freedom movements, ranging from Civil Rights to supporting Nelson Mandela against South African apartheid to aiding Soviet Jewry—for help?

A: I can’t speak for others, but I know some have paid more attention to it.

There was a delegation of Iranian Americans, including at least part of the political diaspora, that went to Israel. I certainly understand the importance of that relationship, and that was one of the reasons why I traveled to Israel. I know the value of the kind of influence that we can exert so that the correct policies are implemented.

As far as social justice, one of the consequences of this regime is that Iranians in Iran have faced discrimination of all forms—ethnic, sexual and religious.

The way our society is responding today within Iran is that in the end, we are all victims of this same regime. It doesn’t matter if you are Bahá’í or Jewish, or have a particular political idea or sexual orientation. We are all common victims.

Women in Iran today are the first victims and have been classified as second-class citizens from the get-go. When you look at it on an international scale, women’s rights have been the most paramount element of social justice that I think precedes anything else.

I recognize the importance of these elements of the alliance with the Jewish community.

Q: Many Iranian Americans are advocating for H.R.589, the Mahsa Amini Human Rights and Security Accountability, or MAHSA, Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year and is pending in the Senate. The bill calls for sanctioning leaders of the Iranian regime for their role in human-rights abuses against the people of Iran. Do you think the U.S. Jewish community should support this bill, and how can Iranian and Jewish communities cooperate on common concerns regarding the regime in Iran?

A: The legislation is important in drafting new policies on how to deal with the problem. The Mahsa Amini Act addresses one aspect of an important factor of exerting maximum pressure on the regime.

In other words, not only implementing existing sanctions but getting more impact by adding additional ones.

The United States has already done so (in 2019), but Europe is adding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to its lists of terrorist organizations. It’s putting that into effect but is not quite there yet. That is very important because this cripples the regime and its tentacles even more.

The IRGC is pretty much the de facto paramilitary mafia that rules Iran and controls every aspect there. Is that sufficient? No. Which is why I have always called for a parallel to maximum pressure—having maximum support.

Communication is key, making sure that Iranians have the means and the tools to be connected and are not cut off from the rest of the world in their internet access. Any help with that is great.

Exiled Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi attends an event in Ramat Gan, Israel, on April 19, 2023. Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

We need to reverse policies that currently limit the ability of Iranians to actually send money back home. If you want to support a family, it doesn’t cost much but you could literally with daily means support a family so at least it doesn’t starve at night. Iranians can then take more risks committing to work stoppages, civil disobedience or non-compliance against the Islamic regime.

You can contribute to a strike fund. And Iranians can repurpose frozen funds that belong to the people in the first place.

It’s not sufficient to have pressure from abroad. There has to be an element of pressure from within. In that sense, I want to attract attention not only to external pressure but to how we can bring direct support to equal the playing field for Iranians at home. That starts with more connectivity.

I think it’s important to have the proper messaging for Iranians to understand how many ways the diaspora can help them not only in overthrowing the regime, but most importantly, in the future of Iran. Bringing resources, expertise, technology and entrepreneurship back to Iran.

In that context, this community can bring both change and economic development, and it goes without saying that the Jewish community, whether Iranian or non-Iranian, can get this message. 

At the end of the day, it all comes back to people’s economic situation. These are the kinds of messages that bring about more hope that change can occur. As I said last night in my speech, we can start moving the needle from hope to belief that it actually could be done. These kinds of messages, that we are ready to step in and help, go a long way in empowering the people of Iran and giving them a sense that it can happen.

Q: When you visited Israel last year, you interacted with many Iranians in the country who welcomed you warmly. What surprised you the most about the Iranian community in Israel, and how did their interactions with you, which Persian-language news media broadcast, impact perceptions of Iranians worldwide about Israel?

A: First of all, I wasn’t surprised, because I knew of that sentiment from the very beginning. The Iranian Jewish community in Israel, compared to peers elsewhere, has from the very beginning been the most vocal that we had to flee the country but has remained Iranian, attached to the motherland.

This was not a surprise to me. I knew it from the very beginning. This sentiment is present today more than ever.

I’ll tell you what was more of a surprise to me. On the last day before I returned to Europe, I was strolling on the beach in Tel Aviv in front of the shoreline, and average Israeli citizens would walk up to me excited, knowing full well why I was there. They said how hopeful they were that we can have this relationship again between our two countries. That was an element that I didn’t expect—that level of enthusiasm and interest.

Q: For more than four decades, Iran’s once-sizable Jewish community has nearly completely fled Iran for its safety and due to the persecution it experienced at the hands of the Islamic Republic ruling Iran. What sort of future do you foresee for these Iranian Jews—who live primarily stateside and in Israel and who have achieved significant success there—after the regime is no longer in power? What roles might they have in helping to rebuild Iran?

A: It’s no secret that many of the people in Iran who brought in factories, industry and investments to help the country modernize were Iranian Jews.

Of course, they are part and parcel of Iran’s future. I’d like to stress one point. When Hitler was mounting his war and carrying out the events of the Holocaust, I wonder how history took a change.

The attack on Pearl Harbor propelled America to engage in the Second World War. Until then, it didn’t want to have anything to do with it, knowing what Hitler was doing to the Jews. Even before the war, in Iran, we were harboring Jews and protecting them and we did so especially when the war started.

Reza Pahlavi
Karmel Melamed interviews Iran’s exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

We had Iranian diplomats in Europe like Abdol Hossein Sardari, who helped get visas to Jews in France. Iran was a country—dare I say the only country in the Middle East—that actually gave refuge and asylum to fleeing Jews.

I think Iranians do embrace that. Iran was a country that was once respected in the world. Iranians were one of the few peoples who would travel to many countries without visas. The Iranian passport had value. They were respected.

Today, they’ve been humiliated and painted as terrorists.

All that context of course includes Iranian Jews rebuilding the nation. It goes without saying. It’s obvious.

There were those that had to but didn’t want to leave Iran who were murdered by the regime. It forced an exodus and exile. Many would have preferred to stay, but how could they do so under such a level of immediate discrimination?

They don’t necessarily have to return physically, but they can contribute to Iran in a hell of a lot of ways. They still have that attachment and can still find that role.

At the end of the day, history will not repeat itself if we do not forget what happened before. Today’s new generation of young Iranians needs to understand a little bit of what contributed to that development in the past. It was not imposed on them, but Iranians participated in it voluntarily.

Imagine how much more can be done in Iran once the atmosphere is opened, outside of all of these discriminations, and everybody has equal opportunities to contribute and what a bright future we could have. That’s the message we should spread around the world far beyond whether we are Jewish, Bahá’í or Muslim, or whatever ethnicity or whatever political thinking. The country can in fact help itself.

Q: Your majesty, thank you for chatting with us at JNS.

A: Thank you.

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