Monday, December 31, 2007

When silence is golden for emigration operations

Yossi Melman of Haaretz adds his voice to the mutterings of disapproval at the high-profile exodus of 40 Iranian Jews to Israel, claiming such operations endanger the remaining community. (However, the opposite could be true: directing the media spotlight at the Jews still in Iran might be the best way to guarantee their safety. )

"The unnecessary media to-do surrounding the arrival of 40 Jews from Iran last week might harm immigration to Israel and the 28,000 Jews still in Iran. The Jewish Agency, the military censor and the government agency who contributed to these festivities, or who did not prevent them, might be sorry afterward.

"At the moment the response from Tehran has been minor. The leaders of Iran's Jewish community, obviously on the instructions of their government, quickly denounced the efforts of the "Zionist regime" to entice them to immigrate. But people familiar with the Iranian regime's behavior patterns say it will be difficult for them to act as if nothing has happened regarding an act they perceive as a callous Israeli provocation.

"Immigration to Israel from the Arab countries, Iran and the Soviet bloc became a key issue for all Israeli governments. For this reason two espionage organizations were put in charge of it: the Mossad (via the Bitzur unit) in Arab countries, and Nativ in Eastern Europe.

"Bitzur and Nativ organized impressive but secret immigration operations over the years. They were assisted by Jewish organizations like the American Joint Distribution Committee in bringing Jews to Israel from Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan - and according to foreign sources, from Iran as well.

"Their methods were essentially similar. Preparatory work was done in the community. Arrangements with the local government were preferable, so international pressure and pressure by Jewish organizations was used, and if necessary money changed hands. Only when an accommodation could not be reached to bring Jews out were other means invoked, such as smuggling them out. The Israeli press, and in many cases the foreign press as well, were in on the secret and knew how to keep it, recognizing that any report on the details might cost lives.

"The leaders of Muslim countries are ready to let Jews out as long as this does not become public knowledge. The moment details are leaked, their adversaries accuse them of strengthening the Zionist state and its army. That was the case when news of the immigration from Sudan leaked, and the country's president, Jaafar Nimeiri, had to fend off accusations by his opponents about cooperation with the Zionist enemy.

"The Jews of Iran enjoy reasonable treatment. They have an organized community life and are free to conduct their religious rituals and businesses. Like most Iranian citizens, they are also allowed to go abroad, and when they return they are not asked what they did on their vacation. It may be assumed that the Iranian authorities know that most of them have relatives in Israel.

"In other words, as long as things remain quiet and do not appear on the public agenda, the Iranian authorities can come to terms with the situation. When the relationship between Iranian Jews and Iran becomes vociferous and public, they must respond. That is what happened when Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein's International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced in 2007 that it would pay tens of thousands of dollars to every Iranian Jew who came to live in Israel. Iranian spokesmen responded angrily and the heads of the Jewish community had to distance themselves from the rabbi's initiative."

Read article in full

JTA News article

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