An expert and unique take on Israel-Iran relations: Dr. Daniel Dana

Dana was born Jamshid Hassani in Tehran on November 22, 1945, into a Shi’ite Muslim family.

 Dana with former IDF general Avigdor Kahalani and a representative of PLIM. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dana with former IDF general Avigdor Kahalani and a representative of PLIM.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

In November 2012, I had the good fortune to attend the Jerusalem book launch of the English edition of Dr. Daniel Dana’s autobiography, Abayef – A Bridge Builder Between Faiths.  Many members of the local Iranian Jewish community and leading intellectuals were present to express their admiration for this remarkable man, Dr. Dana, who has excelled in far more areas of human activity than most other men, both in intellectual and physical pursuits. He has excelled in the study and practice of law, in sports, as a writer and a playwright, as a charismatic speaker, as a leader of men, and indeed in every field in which he engaged. And yet, for all his achievements and many tribulations, he remains modest and blessed with a charming, good-natured personality that endears him to all who know him.

Dana was born Jamshid Hassani in Tehran on November 22, 1945, into a Shi’ite Muslim family. In 1972 he represented Iran at the Student Olympics in Moscow, and in 1973 was the National University gymnastic champion of Iran.

After graduating from the Tehran University Law School with a Bachelor of Law degree, he studied at Paris University from 1978 to 1984, receiving an MA and PhD in Comparative Constitutional Law.

In Paris, he was the first Iranian to resist Khameini among the Paris students, and in 1981 he was the commander of the force that captured the Iranian Tabarzin missile gunboat.

For organizing young students to fight the Islamic Republic, he was sentenced to death three times in absentia.

Dr. Daniel Dana and PLIM representatives meeting Shimon Peres. (credit: Courtesy)Dr. Daniel Dana and PLIM representatives meeting Shimon Peres. (credit: Courtesy)

He arrived in Iran in March 1986 expecting to be executed, but they did not do so, and he worked there as a lawyer in private International law.

He left Iran in December 1989, and from Bombay came to Melbourne. On July 14, 1990, he converted to Christianity and began to translate Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses into Persian. He was studying at Melbourne University and training for the Australian Bar. 

The Australian Intelligence Services sent him to Tasmania to stop the translation, and to do a post-doctorate in International Private Law. Thirteen months later he received an eight-week research scholarship from the Sir Henry Baker Institute in Tasmania. On November 22, 1994, he came to Jerusalem for the first time. He was forced to remain in Israel because the Australian government pronounced him persona non grata.

In November 1995 he married Marina, a Russian-Israeli architect (“my gift of G-d”), and she helped him find his roots as a Jew whose family was forced to convert to Islam in Mashad in the 1839 pogrom.

Dana only discovered that he was in fact already Jewish (although he studied to convert for three years) when doctors at Hadassah discovered that his blood had a uniquely Jewish blood sickness (“To complete this miracle G-d made me a faithful soldier for defending Zion”). On July 14, 1990, he founded the PLIM Peace and Love International Movement for promoting peace between Iran and Israel, and for the past few years has traveled extensively in Europe and elsewhere to spread the word and love of Israel among Iranian exiles of the various faiths.

Among his numerous literary achievements are the translation into Persian of many Bible stories, the writing of hundreds of articles in Persian, and a comparative study of the French and Islamic legal systems in French. He wrote Khorshidak, a political novel, in Persian; Tabarzin, the story of a captured missile boat in Spain during August 1981 by a nationalist Iranian group; My Sister Zion, about Judaism and Iran; Behdini, the history of Bahaism; a study of Shi’ite theology; and he is currently working on a two-volume history of the Shirazi Jewish Community. He also edited the memoirs of Zion Ezri, the first Israeli ambassador to Iran.

His play about travesties of justice in modern Iran, Injustice, has been translated into Hebrew, English and French from the original Persian.

In addition to the above, he is also the founder of the Blue Star local Iranian Jewish cultural group.

Abayef, the searingly honest chronicle of this remarkable individual’s life, is also amazingly timely because of the light it throws on the history, politics and culture of the Iran of the past and the Iran we know today. And through the prism of Daniel Dana’s odyssey, we are able to understand with far greater insight the position and condition of present-day Iran.

We read how Dana’s grandmother always tried to teach him the pure Shi’ite faith, and to become a future leading ayatollah. However, many questions arose in Dana’s mind by the time he was in high school.

Following his studies in Tehran University, he worked in the Iranian National Police Force for about eight years following his two-year military service.

His studies and residence in Paris coincided with the arrival in Paris in 1978 of Ayatollah Khomeini, and Dana emerged as one of the leaders of the anti-Khomeini students, for which he paid the heavy price of being sentenced to death by execution by the revolutionary court in absentia.

He met the exiled Queen Farah Pahlavi in Rabat in 1980, and proposed shooting Khomeini and changing the course of Iranian history. But his proposal was rejected despite his having been awarded a medal as the best marksman in the Iranian Police Force. He returned to Paris and established the first paramilitary anti-regime organization called Javan in 1980. The book tells in detail how he and his followers captured the Iranian Tabarzin missile gunboat. In the next operation we learn how Javan prevented the construction of a large Mosque in a Paris suburb to mark the third year of the Shi’ite Revolution, and destroyed the mosque.

An important aspect of this part of the book is the analysis of the impact and dangers of the Shi’ite revolution and its anti-humanitarian concepts to Western civilization, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Iranians and terrible damage to millions of Iranian families.

Prompted by family and financial straits, he courageously defied the death threats and returned to Iran in March 1986, but instead of executing him the Intelligence Services of the Islamic Republic used his return for propaganda purposes, and he was hailed as a hero instead.

After working as a distinguished lawyer in Iran, he left in December 1989 for Australia via India, where he requested asylum as a political refugee.

After Christian Theological studies in Melbourne, he was sent to Tasmania to do a second PhD in Private International Law at Hobart University. He received a scholarship for eight weeks’ research at the Hebrew University, but then the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv confiscated his travel documents and Political Refugee certificate, and he was officially notified as being a direct risk to Australian national security. Zina Harman, the UN Refugees Advisor in Jerusalem, sent him to the International Christian Embassy.

The PLIM Peace and Love International Movement invited hundreds of Iranian opposition, cultural and religious leaders to Israel over the years, and also arranged hundreds of meetings in the West to bring the message of peace and love between the sister nations of Israel and Iran.

While working as a night-watchman in May 2001, he was diagnosed with Talasemia Anemia, a blood disease which the professors at Shaare Zedek and Hadassah confirmed as only found in the blood of Middle Eastern Jews, and then quite miraculously, from a cousin he met at his brother’s wedding, he received confirmation of the family’s Jewish roots.

She told him that her father, just before he passed away in 2005, had told her “We are Jewish and our family name was Abayef. When we arrived in Iran from Russia we were forced to change the family name and present ourselves as Shi’ite Moslems.” This is when Dana finally understood why his grandmother always insisted that he should never eat meat with milk.

Reading Abayef, the reader will gasp at how one man has managed to cram so many achievements into a single life under such trying circumstances, to excel in so many different fields, and to emerge unbowed and prepared to fight on for the causes he holds dear: his Judaism and the message of Israel and Zionism, his opposition to the current Shi’ite regime in Iran, and his vision of a future of brotherhood and cooperation between Israel and Iran symbolized by the historic act of King Cyrus in aiding the Jewish exiles to return to Israel and rebuild their Temple and homeland.

The book is full of information about Iranian history and culture, and there is a very informative appendix on the background of Shi’ism and the conflict with Sunni Islam. One hopes that the publication of this important book in its Hebrew, Persian and English editions is encouraging Israeli policymakers and the media to make use of Dana’s expertise and unparalleled knowledge of Iran past and present, and also to give him the credit, respect and recognition he so richly deserves for all that he has achieved both in Iran and in Israel for the greater good of both countries.