The Iranian intellectual left in exile has latched on to popular leftwing causes like the Palestinian cause, without paying the slightest attention to the great injustice taking place under their very noses: the loss of their own age-old Jewish community. Important essay by Roya Hakakian in The Tablet. (With thanks: Eliyahu)
Jews in Hamedan in 1918. They have now disappeared
These friends got me to replace my petty
anxieties with much grander ones. I was to preoccupy myself with the
plight of the mineworkers of Bolivia, pray for the struggling
Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Northern Ireland nationalists, keep
alive the memory of Native Americans, and march on behalf of the
displaced Palestinians. Somehow this proved the best antidote for the
discontented adolescent at the time.
But even at the time, it puzzled me why the dwindling community of
Iran’s own Jews never fell within the otherwise generous purview of
their concerns. In 1977, that ancient community had more than 100,000
members. Today fewer than 10,000 remain. Such drastic diminishment of
any population in the West would surely place that community on the
endangered list, warranting the issuing of buttons and stickers, pasted
on car bumpers and the binders of idealistic freshmen in colleges. But
somehow Bolivia was closer to the hearts of my compatriots than
Ju-bareh, the Jewish district of their own Isfahan, where, as it
happens, Jews had, indeed, built underground tunnels to alert each other
when pogroms broke out.
The extinction of a community to which Iran owes so much of its
distinction as a non-Arab nation, a distinction so important to the
Iranian sense of self, has never been recognized by Iran’s elite, nor
eulogized, for with the loss of the Jewish community Iran’s claim to
tolerance and Persian-ness will be harder to sustain. And so a nearly
3,000-year history is ending in silence. The Jews who had aspired to
anonymity throughout their life in Iran are becoming extinct in
anonymity now. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not manage to wipe Israel off
the map of the world, his revolution surely has just about wiped the
Jewish community off the map of Iran.
Of the 90,000 Iranian Jews who have been displaced since 1979,
possibly half emigrated to Israel. These were the less-well-off Jews,
the “proletariat” of the community who could not afford to go elsewhere.
My aunt and her family were among them. In January 1979, in a town
called Khonssar, an angry mob of anti-Shah demonstrators set fire to the
fabric shop the family ran. In the rolls of fabric they kept in the
store, they had tucked their life’s savings in cash. When the shop
burned, so did their future. And so did their home, for they lived on
the story above.
In the thousands of posts that avid secular Iranians have placed on
social media since the start of the recent war in Gaza, as in the
numerous articles they penned, statements they signed and speeches they
gave over the years, there has never been a mention of their own
uprooted Jews. Palestine, they have consistently demanded, must be
returned to the Palestinians. But not once a contemplation on what was
to become of those who made their home there because the revolution they
helped usher into the country drove them out of their ancient homeland.
Reams of translations and invocations of the literature of wronged
communities—of poetry of Langston Hughes, for instance, and of the
suffering of African Americans under slavery—but not a word about the
gas chambers of the Nazis. In what they have not done, this so-called Iranian leftist vanguard is denying the Holocaust just as much as the president they opposed did.
In the thousands of posts on the “apartheid” in Israel, there has
been none about the apartheid in Iran, the one where Jews (like other
non-Muslims) cannot testify in a criminal trial against a Muslim.
Thousands of posts on the alleged genocide committed against the Gazans,
not a word about disappearance of Iranian Jews from Hamedan, for
instance, where of the rule of the Jewish Queen Esther, only an
abandoned tomb remains. The wrongs done to the Jews of Iran do not wash
away the wrongs done against the Palestinians. But how can the necessity
of Israel as a Jewish homeland be so readily dismissed by those who
have been the culprits of the displacement and extinction of a community
of their own?
It is far too easy to resort to “anti-Semitism” as the explanation
for what is ailing my compatriots, though it cannot be ruled out. Having
observed them for as long as I have known them and myself, I have come
to see their profound loss as the single most formative, and tragic,
force of their lives. Once the Young Turks of their own era, they are
now reaching the end of their lives in Iran or in diaspora, their
destinies determined and ruled by a lesser sort—less educated, less
erudite, less debonair, less sophisticated: mullahs who outwitted them
in a Trojan moment. The innocuously turbaned giant they allowed into the
country in February of 1979 proved to be their archenemy. They lost
Iran, then they lost their hope in the Soviet Union as a utopia. Of all
the things that used to define, bind and unify them, nothing is left
Nothing, that is, but their antagonism to Israel. Israel is the one
cause around which their disarrayed lot can still unify, to reclaim a
modicum of their old revolutionary glory. And it is cost-free, too. So
many of these aging and ailing opposition figures, who had sworn off
traveling to Iran until the mullahs were gone, are now dual citizens,
returning to the bosom of families and communities after decades of
separation. To keep their travel privileges, there is much that they
keep silent about. But bashing Israel and the Jews, where their
convictions miraculously overlap with those of the archenemy—well, that
gets their passports renewed. Besides, for the more visible figures, it
may even land them an interview or two on national television.
In the meantime, several promising signs point to a different
attitude emerging among average Iranians, as documented in the latest
ADL’s report on the state of anti-Semitism globally. A far more
pragmatic generation, disenchanted with the regime and even more so with
their “enlightened” predecessors, is rising throughout Iran.
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