Background: Why announce Iranian aliya?

Decision intended to send message to Iran's Jews that they are wanted here.

Iranian olim 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iranian olim 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's decision to publicize the arrival of a group of 40 Iranian immigrants Tuesday was intended to send a message to Iranian Jewry that they are wanted here, and that if emigration from Iran were one day prohibited, no one could say they did not have a chance to come to Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The decision to publicly reveal the Iranian Jews' arrival - something that has been kept secret in the past - was made in consultation between the Jewish Agency and other governmental bodies to send a message to the remaining Iranian Jews that the sooner they decide to leave Iran the better, the Post was informed. Not everyone, however, was happy with the decision. One source involved with the Iranian Jewish community expressed concern that publicizing the group's arrival, at a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was saying that Israel's Jews should be sent to Canada or Alaska, could complicate matters for those 25,000 Jews still in Iran. According to this source, the decision had less to do with sending a message to Iran's Jews, and more to do with gaining positive publicity for the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the organization granting a $10,000 gift to each of the immigrants. Another source said there was concern that the publicity could lead to an increase in surveillance of the Iranian Jewish community. The source said the publication also served to counter recent statements made by Iranian Jews declaring how good life was for the Jewish community there. A large Israeli press contingent - including radio, Internet and TV, as well as the major international wire services - were "tipped off" to the planned event 24 hours before it took place. All reports were required to go to the military censor. The story attracted much attention in the Arab media on Wednesday, with much of the focus on trying to figure out the identity of the third country through which the immigrants passed on their way to Israel. Israel Radio's Farsi language broadcast did not report the group's arrival at all, not wanting to create any problems for the remaining Iranian Jewish community, according to Israel Radio sources. On Tuesday, Yossi Shraga, director of Middle East immigration at the Jewish Agency, told the Post that the Jews of Iran were "starting to feel the earth burn beneath their feet" in a growing atmosphere of anti-Semitism. He said that in contrast to what the leaders of the Iranian Jewish community were saying, Jewish schools in Iran had been shut down and a ban issued proscribing the learning and teaching of Hebrew. A larger and higher-profile welcome for the group was originally planned, but was eventually overruled and toned down by the censor's office. In the end, the agreement was that the event could not be reported until the plane carrying the new immigrants had landed. In addition, the media were not allowed to publish the names of the immigrants, show their faces or name the transit country through which they arrived. While in the past it was prohibited to report where immigrants from Iran were sent after their arrival, this time the rule was relaxed, and it was permitted to report that they went to the Beersheba absorption center. Sources familiar with the situation of the Jews in Iran say that the community, centered mostly around Teheran, Isfahan and Shiraz, was being used politically by Ahmadinejad. According to these sources, Ahmadinejad was prepared to use the community as a possible bargaining chip in his diplomatic wrangling with the West. Iranian Jews residing in Israel, however, disputed this claim, saying Jews in Iran were not feeling persecuted. Reacting to the arrival of the new immigrants, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy said he hoped the decision to publicize the event had been taken after "the serious consequences were taken into consideration." Halevy, speaking to Israel Radio, called the publication "a change in established policy," and expressed his hope to see "the positive results of this decision." "The Jews of Iran live in a difficult environment. It's not easy to hear the things the Iranian regime says about Israel and the Holocaust," Halevy said. According to sources involved with the issue, imposing a travel or emigration ban on Iran's Jews would not be in the interests of the Iranian government, which wants to show the rest of the world that despite its problems with the US and Israel, there is a humane regime in Teheran that treats its Jewish minority well.