More than 100 Iranian Americans and Jewish activists gathered on March 8 at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles for an International Women’s Day event in solidarity with the women of Iran.
“The world must recognize the struggle Iranian women have taken on for their freedom and how for the first time Iranians of all backgrounds are demanding equality rights for everyone in their country,” Leibe Geft, the museum’s director, said at the event.
Lisa Daftari, an Iranian American journalist, was master of ceremony at the event co-sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the nonprofit organization No to Antisemitism. She called it historic that Southern California’s Jewish and Iranian communities had come together.
“There is such an outpouring of support from all people for the Iranian revolution, but the Jewish community and Iranian community have a natural allyship that has been underscored and is now coming to a crescendo after five months of protests against the regime,” Daftari, who runs a website called the Foreign Desk, told JNS.
The Iranian regime has targeted both Iranians and Jews. “They understand each other and are now openly supporting each other against a common enemy,” she added.
Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian ex-pat community in the world—nearly 45,000 of whom are Jews, according to some estimates.
When organizers played a recording of Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour performing his song “Baraye”—the Iranian revolution’s unofficial anthem and the winner last month of the first Grammy for Best Song for Social Change—via video feed, many attendees wiped away tears as they sang along.
Attendees also saw a video social-media post from January featuring some 50 popular entertainers, including Cate Blanchett, Jason Momoa, Samuel L. Jackson and Bryan Cranston held signs with the hashtag “Stop executions in Iran.” Iranian-American artists Nicole Najafi, Ana Lily Amirpour and Mozhan Marnò created the video, according to the Hollywood Reporter. And in a live video, Daftari interviewed Iranian American activist Mariam Memarsadeghi and Iranian American CNN news editor Artemis Moshtaghian at the Los Angeles event.
‘Doing a better job getting information out there’
The Biden administration has disappointed many Iranian Americans with its Iranian policy, which they find weak in addressing the Iranian regime’s human-rights abuses, according to Memarsadeghi, founder of the Cyrus Forum.
By keeping negotiation doors open, the Biden administration is allowing the Iranian regime to blackmail Washington, Memarsadeghi said in a live video feed during the event. “Our community wants to see a clear break from their current policy of appeasement of the regime, and it seems as if the Biden administration has not done that,” she said.
And in recent months, Iranian American journalists and activists have had difficulty persuading U.S. news outlets to continue to cover the regime’s harsh crackdowns on protesters in Iran.
“It’s been a struggle to get Western news media to cover the freedom movement in Iran, but I think now we have been doing a better job to get the information out there,” she said.
After Iran’s “morality police” arrested and beat a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in Tehran last September for not covering her head, protesters have taken to the streets in many Iranian cities. As the protests have increased, security forces have beaten, arrested and shot many protesters, including killing more than 500—60 of them minors—according to the nonprofit Human Rights Activists News Agency.
Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian American activist who spoke from Washington, D.C., via live feed at the event, addressed the efforts of her organization, Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists, to lobby Oberlin College to fire Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, from his religion professorship. She cited Mahallati’s alleged role in covering up the Iranian regime’s massacre of at least 5,000 Iranian dissidents in 1988.
In a Feb. 6 report, Amnesty International cited Mahallati’s participation in covering up “facts and whereabouts of thousands of political dissidents they extrajudicially killed in the 1980s and dumped in unmarked graves.”
“What is truly outrageous is that after this report came out, the administration at Oberlin College still didn’t fire Mahallati but continues to pay him by giving him office work,” Bazargan told JNS.
Oberlin and Mahallati did not return calls and emails from JNS.
‘We will always be grateful for their help’
Another event speaker was Gazelle Sharmahd, a Los Angeles-based activist and daughter of Iranian German journalist Jamshid Sharmahd, kidnapped by the Iranian regime in July 2020 from his Dubai hotel. In February, it sentenced him to death for terrorism. Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, has said the arrest occurred under “highly questionable circumstances,” and Sharmahd “never had even the semblance of a fair trial.”
Sharmahd told JNS she did not attend in person at the Museum of Tolerance out of fear for her security. She praised the museum and Jewish organizations for informing U.S. and European officials about her father’s plight.
“Members of the Jewish community were the first to help us because they realized the evil nature of the Iranian regime’s dictatorship since they have experienced the trauma of terror from this regime firsthand,” said Sharmahd. “We will always be grateful for their help to save my father’s life.”
Iranian Americans who attended the event were inspired by brief comments from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, directing them to petition the U.S. government to place greater economic and political pressure on Iran’s Islamic regime.
“Rabbi Cooper’s speech was a strong voice of hope demanding justice and freedom in Iran,” said Arshia Sajedi, an Iranian American activist in Los Angeles. “His message was one I so desperately needed to hear, as many of our human rights political leaders still refuse to publicly state their full support for regime change in Iran.”
Bijan Khalili, a founder of No to Antisemitism, told JNS that some non-Jewish Iranians have hesitated to participate in Iran-focused events at Jewish organizations, for fear of being labeled Zionist spies or collaborators by the Iranian regime.
“This taboo is slowly dying off,” she said, “because we and other Jews have been showing our non-Jewish Iranian brothers and sisters that we always stand in solidarity with them and face the same evil as they do in the Islamic regime.”