Karmel Melamed, an Iranian-Jewish journalist based in California, has written this excellent rebuttal on his blog to recent claims by Jonathan Cook on The Guardian's 'Comment is Free' website that Jews in Iran live in freedom and tolerance:
"Recently one of my readers forwarded me a blog posting made by freelance journalist Jonathan Cook on The Guardian newspaper website in the United Kingdom. Cook, who is based in Nazareth in northern Israel, has made quite a number of incorrect assertions about Iran’s Jews in his piece entitled “Kosher in Tehran”. As an Iranian Jewish journalist living in the U.S. with more first-hand knowledge about Iranian Jewry, I feel compelled to set the record straight. Jonathan Cook is dead wrong about Iran’s Jews and his misinformation must be exposed.
Aside from Cook’s long-standing and rampant hatred of Israel, he has either knowingly or unknowingly taken in the one-sided propaganda put out by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime hook, line and sinker! Cook tries to paint a rosy picture of the 10,000 to 20,000 Jews in Iran that he claims live in “peace and freedom”, and Iran’s regime as benevolent toward the country’s Jews. As a journalist who speaks the Persian language fluently and regularly chats with Jews and non-Jewish Iranians who have fled the country, I can tell you Cook's claims are nothing more than fantasies.
The truth of the matter is since 1979, Iran’s government has used the presence of Jews living in the country as a major propaganda tool to supposedly show themselves in a positive light to the West. Ex-agents of the regime have long identified scores of Western journalists who were paid off by the Iranian government to portray the regime positively. Again today, pundits and supposed journalists like Cook are trying to use Iran’s Jews to whitewash Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Holocaust and wiping out Iran. This is basically being done as damage control by the Western proponents of Iran’s regime on the Iranian government’s behalf. Often you’ll see the same type of damage control by television news media, showing young women in Iran wearing make-up, trendy clothing, and listening to Western music-- all done to send the message to Americans and Europeans that “Iran is not such a bad place”.
Cook also claims that Iran’s Jews only “suffer from discrimination” - but nothing could be further from the truth. The regime’s thugs keep a tight grip on the Jewish community in Iran who live in constant fear for their lives. If the Jews step out of line in Iran their lives are at immediate risk. Such was the case in 2000 when 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were randomly arrested on trumped-up charges of being supposed spies for Israel and the U.S. The penalty for treason by any person, especially a non-Muslim, in Iran is death. The intense pressure from the U.S. and Europe on Iran during the case of the Shiraz 13 ultimately forced the regime not to execute the Jews. Now if Cook is reluctant to believe me, I suggest he speak to the scores of new Iranian Jewish immigrants who have recently resettled in Los Angeles and ask them about life in Iran. Or perhaps he should chat with the hundreds of Iranian Jewish families who left Iran and are still waiting in Austria for their visas to the U.S., and ask them how life was for them in Iran. I seriously doubt Cook or anyone else would find a single person who would praise the conditions for Jews in Iran.
Yet Cook's most naïve assertion about Iran’s Jews is that he wholeheartedly believes the “positive” statements made by the Jewish community leaders in Iran about their lives in the country. For instance, in his blog posting, Cook quotes a Jewish leader in Iran who denounces Zionism and praises his life in Iran. Likewise Cook points the refusal of the Jewish community in Iran to take up $60,000 offered by certain Jewish groups to lure them out of Iran, as evidence that conditions are supposedly good for them in the country.
I recently interviewed Frank Nikbakht, director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, who has monitored the rhetoric of Iran’s Jewish leaders for the last 25 years. Nikbakht said the comments made by Jewish leaders in Iran to the Western media should be questioned. They lack credibility since these leaders have been picked by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to parrot what the regime tells them. “Whenever any journalist goes to Iran to talk to the Jews, they will be handed over to hand-picked Jewish collaborators similar to those from the Judenrat in Nazi Germany,” said Nikbakht. In essence how can any statements regarding Iran’s Jews coming from those so closely aligned with Iran’s regime be trusted? They clearly cannot.
Here's a recent TV news feature showing the handpicked Iranian Jewish leaders only saying positive things about the Iranian government and other Iranian Jews supposedly speaking their minds freely about life in Iran.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that Iran’s regime does not grant visas to journalists it deems unsympathetic to their government, so the Iranian officials have had much success spewing their one-sided propaganda regarding Iranian Jews. Cook is also foolish to believe public comments made by Jews in Iran. Even if they wanted to speak freely about their government, they would never dare do so because they would face imprisonment, torture or even death. The regime’s armed thugs have arrested and tortured Iranians in recent years that have expressed their criticism of the regime to visiting Western media. Therefore, when all the voices on Iran’s Jews are so heavily influenced and controlled by the Iranian government, no one in their right mind should believe a single word coming from them.
Cook is seriously mistaken if he believes life is great for Iran’s Jews considering the scores of ridiculous, intolerant laws they live under. According to Nikbakht’s research of Iran’s Islamic based laws, not only does the Iranian Constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims, but all non-Muslims must be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantage over Muslims. Again, how on earth can Cook or anyone in their right mind consider such an unjust system of laws in Iran as humane and fair ?
As a journalist who exclusively covers Iranian Jewry and has close ties to the community, I am personally baffled at how Cook can assert that life is great for Jews in Iran. I am regularly reminded by countless Iranian American Jewish leaders to watch what I might be writing about the Iranian government for fear that what I report on may have negative repercussions on the Jews of Iran. So my question to Cook, and others like him, is why on earth are Iranian American Jews so concerned about my words and the safety of their brethren in Iran if everything is so fine and dandy in Iran? The truth of the matter is, Iran’s Jews are not safe and they live in a constant fear of how the regime may turn on them at any moment.
Finally, Cook’s argument that Iran’s remaining Jews are living peacefully and freely in Iran and supposedly “unwilling to leave the country” is also flawed. First of all Cook is wrong in citing that are there are 25,000 Jews living in Iran because there has been no real census to determine their population. The community’s population estimates over the years have varied from 10,000 to 20,000 today. Some argue that the 20,000 figure is also inaccurate because thousands of Jews have quietly left or illegally fled Iran in the last five to ten years. Others argue that the 20,000 figure is inaccurate because a small but considerable portion of these Iranian Jews have converted to Islam or Christianity in order to survive, but are still counted as Jews because they are living within their family structures and attend synagogue to their continued beliefs in Judaism. The children of these Jews are now growing up as Muslims or Christians, but not as Jews. It should be noted that it is much safer to live in Iran as a Christian than as a Jew. Therefore, for Cook to include a few thousand hidden converts with the population of Jews in Iran is flawed.
In his posting, Cook boasts on behalf of Iran’s regime that the country is still home to a substantial number of Jews. He FAILS to look at the bigger historical picture of Iran’s Jewish population. Before the 1979 revolution, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran, compared to the 20,000 who have remained. This mass exodus of Jews would be enough proof to anyone in their right mind that Iran must obviously not be a welcoming place for Jews if 60,000 Jews have fled the country! Moreover, Cook FAILS to take into account the painful history of Iran’s Jews who numbered in the hundreds of thousands 500 years ago before the Shiite religious cleansing of Iran began. Since then, and over the centuries, forced massive conversions, gradual conversions, mass killings and pogroms forced thousands of Jews to convert. Those hundreds of thousands of Jews in Iran should have been in the millions today had it not been for the ruthless and irrational activities of Iran’s clerics and monarchs over the centuries. Cook’s ridiculous portrait of Jews now living in Iran is not only an insult to those who appreciate common sense, but an insult to Iranian Jewry for ignoring our tragic history in Iran.
The irony of Cook’s anti-Israel stance and sympathetic views towards Iran’s regime is the fact that he is currently living in Israel, a country where he has the freedom to criticize anyone he pleases without the fear of being harmed in any way. He would never enjoy that same free speech while living in Iran or any other Islamic country. Cook and other apologists for Iran’s Islamic regime must be exposed for continuing to perpetuate these lies about Jews exclusively for Iran’s benefit. Individuals like Cook are in no way professional journalists but rather the lapdogs of Iran’s tyrannical regime: they are spinning the real truth about the regime and presenting supposed "facts” from a non-objective and biased perspective.
What’s really sad about Cook and other apologists of Iran’s regime is that they have no other way to bolster the Iranian government than to point to the condition of Jews in the country. The fact of the matter is that Iran’s economy is in shambles, there is a gasoline shortage, skyrocketing inflation, and doubt-digit unemployment—how else could anyone justify keeping any government in power with such a disastrous economy? As usual, they can use the Jews as a distraction.
Cook is dead wrong about Iran’s Jews and I call on the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper to retract Cook’s statements because they have no journalistic value and are only helping to perpetuate hate for Israel and wrongly bolster the tarnished image of Iran’s government."