In March 1970, roughly 40 prominent Soviet Jews held a major press conference at Moscow’s “House of Friendship” for foreign media to proclaim their loyalty to the Soviet Union and assert their hatred for Israel and Zionism. Likewise, each Soviet Jew at that press conference not only rejected the claims that the nearly 1 million Soviet Jews endured difficult lives but asserted that they even lived better lives than American Jews. At that time, American Jewish activists involved with the cause of suffering Soviet Jewry knew very well that the press conference was nothing more than a propaganda stunt by the Soviet politburo to improve their stained image in the world’s media by parading out Soviet Jews to sing their praises.
Sadly, for the last four decades, the radical Islamic ayatollah regime in Iran has continued this shameful tradition of using Jews to bolster their anti-Semitic and totalitarian regime in the American and European media. The regime’s latest Jewish propaganda voice has been Iran’s 35-year-old, U.S.-educated Chief Rabbi Yehuda Gerami, who during the last several weeks has been traveling across America visiting several Iranian and Ashkenazi synagogues. Gerami has been preaching religious sermons at each synagogue and avoiding political topics in the Middle East.
Yet in a recently published story by the Orthodox-Jewish Ami Magazine in New York, Gerami couldn’t help but repeat his typical propaganda talking points of “how well the Iranian regime treats Iran’s Jews.” Gerami cannot be faulted for wanting to please his ayatollah overlords in Tehran with positive news coverage for them and in turn wanting to protect Iran’s Jews from possible attacks. Yet the real fault lays with the editors of the magazine for shamefully publishing his words verbatim without also disclosing the facts of the countless attacks Iran’s Jews have faced in recent years at the hands of the regime’s thugs, the vehemently anti-Semitic laws of the regime, and the regime’s sickening repeated denials of the Holocaust.
The radical Islamic regime’s thugs in Iran’s Intelligence apparatus for the last 42 years have threatened the safety of Jews living in Iran on a regular basis if they do not openly praise the ayatollahs’ regime and denounce Israel in front of Western media cameras.
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.
The radical Islamic regime’s thugs in Iran’s Intelligence apparatus for the last 42 years have threatened the safety of Jews living in Iran on a regular basis if they do not openly praise the ayatollahs’ regime and denounce Israel in front of Western media cameras. How do I know this? I regularly speak to Iranian Jews who travel to Iran frequently to visit family and to Jews who still live in Iran today. The community of 5,000 to 8,000 Jews still living in Iran does not want to upset the authorities, so they do as they’re told. They clearly do not speak of their own free will because whenever they speak to Western media, they are surrounded by regime “handlers” and thugs who closely monitor what they say to outside media outlets. Therefore, one cannot clearly give any credibility to Gerami or to those Jews in Iran who claim that they are being treated “very well and are safe” there because what they say is likely said under duress.
Moreover, the editors failed to disclose in their story that Jews and other tolerated religious minorities in Iran have a third-class status under the regime’s Shi’ite Sharia laws. If the Jews and other religious minorities in Iran live “great lives” in Iran, then why does the Iranian regime’s constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims? Why do Iran’s laws require that all non-Muslims be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantage over Muslims? Why is the legal punishment for a Jew or other religious minority the death penalty if he intentionally or unintentionally kills a Muslim, while the punishment for a Muslim who kills a Jew in the same circumstances is a monetary fine? In the Ami story, Gerami mentions the one Jewish member of Iran’s parliament having a vote as an example of Jewish rights in the country. Yet he failed to mention that the Jewish parliament member he is referring to must pledge allegiance to advancing the Iranian regime’s form of Islam and is powerless in stopping or opposing anti-Semitic laws passed by parliament. In every aspect of the Iranian regime’s laws, Jews and other tolerated religious minorities in Iran have an inferior status and cannot possibly enjoy good lives and equality.
Additionally, the editors failed to disclose the most damning fact about Iran’s Jews, which is the dramatic reduction of their population since 1979 from Iran. If life is supposedly so “great” for the Jews of Iran and the community is “thriving,” then why have the numbers of the community—once 80,000-strong prior to the 1979 revolution—dwindled to a few thousand? Why on earth has the vast majority of Iran’s Jews fled the country in mass and resettled in America, Europe and Israel in the last four decades? According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the Los Angeles-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran,” since 1979 at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents. Likewise, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two died while in custody, and another 11 have been officially executed by the regime. In reality, not only does the regime in Iran threaten the lives and property of the country’s Jews, but radical Islamic elements in the country are basically free to do as they wish in the country against Jews and other religious minorities.
Lastly, as an Iranian Jewish journalist living in Southern California’s large Iranian Jewish community and reporting on them on a regular basis, I am often reminded by countless leaders and individuals in my community to “watch” what I might be writing about the Iranian regime. They repeatedly express their very real fears that what I may report on may have negative repercussions for the Jews of Iran. So, my question to Ami Magazine and others is: Why on earth are Iranian-American Jews so concerned about my words and the safety of their brethren if everything is supposedly so fine and dandy for the Jews in Iran?
Shame on the editors for allowing their publication to be utilized for the benefit of the ayatollah regime’s propaganda machine and for failing to disclose the true anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime! They owe their readers and Iranian Jews worldwide an apology. Those of us who live in the free world cannot allow the Iranian regime to inaccurately portray themselves as lovers of the Jews or granters of wide freedoms and equality to non-Muslims living in Iran. We must call out the Iranian Republic and expose the truth about their brutality not only towards Jews living in Iran, but towards other individuals the regime has randomly imprisoned, tortured and executed for no reason at all. Sadly, the words coming out of the mouths of Iran’s Jewish leadership, like Gerami, carry zero credibility and must be ignored by Western media outlets.
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California.