With tensions growing between Iran and Israel this past year over Iran’s race to go nuclear, why on earth would a Jew want to continue living in Iran?
Jews worldwide have been worried about what will happen to the nearly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran should a military conflict arise between the two countries.
Karmel Melamed of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles put the question to Frank Nikbakht, one of a handful of experts. As director of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran, his research has been used by US government officials in the State Department and by other prominent community leaders to shed light on the Iranian regime’s treatment of Jews, Christians and Baha'is still living in that country.
Listen to Melamed's podcast here.
Nikbakht rightly points out that the 20,000 who are left are the remnant of a much larger community. These are the people who either have most wealth or status to lose if they leave - or are too old or poor to contemplate starting over outside Iran.
But what about the discrimination faced by Jews? A Jew's life is worth half of that of a Muslim according to Shari'a law. Here Nikbakht makes an especially interesting point. Jews no longer notice the fact they are discriminated against. They are so used to saying good things about the regime that this submissive and delusional mindset stays with them a good decade after they have left Iran. I suppose Bat Ye'or would call it dhimmitude.
Nikbakht thinks that the West should react with greater firmness to the regime. Firmness worked in the case of the Shiraz 13, sparing several of those arrested on spying charges from almost certain execution.
It is harder to see how Nikbakht's prescription for Israel to pursue a more pro-active policy can help.
It seems to me there is a good reason why these Jews are still in Iran. Even in 1939 Nazi Germany, with all the warning signals, a fifth of German Jews were still living there.
These are the diehards. Nothing would make them budge, unless they are running for their lives. And in the case of a nuclear confrontation, it might be too late.