Iranian Jews in Israel skeptical of Rouhani

There are an estimated 50,000 Iranian-born Jews in Israel and about 90,000 “second-generation” Iranian-Israelis.

October 2, 2013 20:53
3 minute read.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani on the phone 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Salome Worch was born in Iran, grew up and spent most of her adult life there. The daughter of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, she was registered as a Muslim in Iran’s records. Gradually, she grew more interested in her Jewish heritage, and in 2005 eventually immigrated to Israel, where she works in catering.

“Don’t use my maiden name because my brother is still in Iran and I wouldn’t want to put him in any danger,” she warned The Media Line.

Worch says she is deeply skeptical that the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani heralds any change in Iran’s policies.

“I wouldn’t trust him -- he’s just another Mullah,” she said, referring to the Iranian clerics who are in charge of Iran’s policies. “I wouldn’t trust him at all.”

She said that the men running Iran are the same faces as when she was a student in the 1980s.

“These faces I see now were young Islamic students in the 1980s,” she said. “I don’t seem them as the opposition, and I don’t see them as a breath of anything.”

She agreed with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s description of Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and says she rarely reads the Iranian papers.

“I will only read the news when they say the Islamic government fell and it has been replaced with a secular government,” Worch said.

There are an estimated 50,000 Iranian-born Jews in Israel and about 90,000 “second-generation” Iranian-Israelis. Some immigrated in the 1950s after the creation of the state of Israel. Others left after the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, Iran’s last secular monarch, in 1979. According to the Jewish community in Tehran, there are currently 25,000 to 35,000 Jews still in Iran, although the official census lists fewer than 10,000.

Many of the Iranian Jews in Israel are deeply skeptical of their governments. Panteh, a young mother and yoga teacher who asked me not to use her last name out of fear of the Iranian government, grew up in Los Angeles, where the second-largest community of Iranian Jews after Israel is located. She says she believes that despite official denials, Iran is continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon.

“It serves all of their interests in both the Arab countries surrounding them, and Iran’s goals for global conquest in the world at large,” she said.

If Panteh represents the younger generation, the older generation is even more critical of the current Iranian government.

“Rouhani is worse than Ahmadinejad,” Ruth Or, 77, who left Iran at age 17, told The Media Line, describing Rouhani’s predecessor who repeatedly denied that the Holocaust had happened. “Ahmadinajad was not smart, but Rouhani is smart -- he knows how to speak.”

When it comes to policy, however, she said, there’s no difference at all.

Even those Iranian Jews who are critical of the regime say they miss many things about Iran, including its physical beauty.

“I see myself as having two homelands,” Hanna Jahanforooz, a musician living near Tel Aviv told The Media Line. “Maybe I’m idealizing Iran, but the country of my native language remains deep in my heart.”

Jahanforooz, who left Iran at age 12, speaks to her young daughter in Farsi, and has been involved in collaborative projects with Iranian musicians who live abroad.

She remains deeply critical of the current regime and skeptical about Rouhani.

“It’s the same policy -- there’s no change,” she said. “He is a different politician and his PR apparatus works well. He knows how to sell himself.”

She says she will only believe in progress when Iran addresses women’s rights.

“I will see a change when they stop hanging women and stoning them, when the 40 percent unemployment among women declines, when the percentage of aids and drug addicts goes down and when they stop killing homosexuals,” she said.

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