Former Israeli diplomat to Tehran tells Post: Iranian Jews not pressured to speak up for regime

Iran's 25,000 Jews forced to practice a difficult balancing act: "They want to be on the right side of things," says Aryeh Levin.

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October 14, 2013 23:18
2 minute read.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly, September 24, 2013.

Rouhani at the UN 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Tehran is not pressuring the Iranian Jewish community to take part in its so-called "charm offensive," a former Israeli diplomat to Tehran told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Earlier this week, the head of the Iranian Jewish community called on US President Barack Obama to seize the "unrepeatable" opportunity to mend ties with Tehran in light of recent overtures done by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the US.

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"If the US and the international community do not make the best of this golden and perhaps unrepeatable opportunity, then it will be in the benefit of those who are against the normalization of ties between Iran and the US," Tehran community leader Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abady wrote in an open letter to the US president.

Some critics have surmised that the government of the Islamic Republic had pressured local Jews to speak up for the regime. However, Aryeh Levin, a former Israeli diplomat who was stationed in Iran prior to the revolution, said that he believes that this is not the case.

“What I think is that no one put any pressure on them to speak up in favor of the government,” Levin, who served as Israel’s minister plenipotentiary in Tehran between 1973 and 1977, told the Post.

The situation for Iranian Jews, he explained, is “quite difficult although they live well and nobody is really bothering them these days.” Still, he added, “they want to be on the right side of things.”

“I believe an unsolicited statement that they made just to make sure that everything would be okay in the future.”

In his letter to President Obama, Abady also rejected the suggestion made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the Iranian people are denied personal freedoms.

"We, the Iranian Jews, as an Iranian religious minority, participated in the elections and elected our popular president freely,” he wrote in an open letter to President Obama quoted by AFP.

The Jewish community has most likely suffered from western sanctions and seeing that there is a possibility of improved relations between Tehran and the west, the local Jewish community “probably want to make sure they are on the right side if things change and apparently there is change in the air.”

However, Levin said that while the local Jewish community is not harassed in a direct manner, many young people do not believe that there is a future in the country and are moving abroad.

Levin has previously written that “Given the Iranian government’s vitriolic stance toward Israel and Zionism, Iranian Jews have been forced to practice a difficult balancing act: They are able to practice Judaism unperturbed so long as they put aside any sense of connection to the Jewish state. However, the existing ambiance in the country cannot but affect the long-term viability of the Jewish community.”

Despite the lack of harassment by authorities in Iran itself, Iran is still an exporter of terrorism against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad, he said.

Iran’s sole Jewish parliamentarian Siamak Moreh Sedgh, that joined Rouhani in his visit to the US for the UN General assembly, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the members country’s Jewish community of around twenty five thousand - down from over eighty thousand from before the 1979 revolution - feel themselves to be “full citizens of Iran,” which he termed “one of the most [religiously] free countries.”

JPost.com staff contributed to this report.


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