Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is Iranian Jewish leader being sidelined?

Haroun Yeshaya, the leader of the Iranian Jewish community who wrote a letter criticising President Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust, may already have been sidelined by the regime, The Forward reports.

Sources familiar with the leadership dynamics of Iran's Jewish community say that the Iranian government had advised Yeshaya a few months ago not to run for a new term as chairman. The move was seen by some observers as part of a larger purge launched by the Iranian president against critics in various sectors of society. Other observers offer a different theory, saying that the government wanted a less vocal Jewish leader, even though Yeshaya generally supported the Islamic regime.

Yeshaya resisted for months but eventually agreed not to run again for chairman of the Jewish Central Committee. His term is set to expire in two months, after the Persian New Year.

A former communist who opposed the shah, Yeshaya was one of the first Jews to support the Ayatollah Khomeini. He used his connections to protect the Jewish community in the face of the rabid anti-Israel rhetoric of the early days of the Islamist regime.

To curry favor with the regime, he has issued anti-Zionist statements repeatedly. His recent letter to Ahmadinejad, protesting the questioning of the Holocaust, allegedly included anti-Zionist rhetoric.

According to a 1999 report in New York Jewish Week, some Iranian and American Jewish leaders have privately accused Yeshaya of playing a role in the imprisonment of 10 Jews in Shiraz that year on charges of spying for Israel. The sources said Yeshaya acted against the Shiraz Jews because their Orthodox views clashed with his secular leanings. However, even Yeshaya's critics agree that he was instrumental in securing the release of the prisoners in 2003 after years of international pressure on the regime. And he has at times protested the antisemitic content of popular television serials and books published in Iran, as has Maurice Motamed, Iran's only Jewish parliamentarian.

But questions remain among some of the regime's strongest opponents in the Iranian exile community.

"I'm a little suspicious about the publication of the letter given the loyalty of the author to the regime," said Pooya Dayanim, president of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee. The committee is staunchly opposed to Tehran's Islamic government. "This may in the end be to the detriment of Iranian Jewry."

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