Sunday, March 02, 2008

Iranian Jews overcome their mistrust of politics

Los Angeles - When Beverly Hills’s Iranian Jewish mayor, Jimmy Jamshid Delshad, ran for office in 2007, he faced an uphill battle. But contrary to conventional wisdom, his biggest challenge wasn’t persuading skeptical non-Iranians to rally behind him. Instead, Delshad’s toughest fight was convincing his natural constituency — the city’s roughly 8,000 Iranian-American Jews — simply to register to vote, let alone vote for him. Rebecca Spence in The Forward reports.

Iranian Jews, alienated from the political process in their home country and mistrustful of government — the result of living for centuries under a repressive, undemocratic regime — carried their skepticism with them to America. When Delshad campaigned for mayor, many still clung to their old attitudes.(..)

A mélange of cultural and historical factors has conspired to keep Iranian Jews away from political engagement. Those factors include political apathy — born of a system that allowed the Jewish community no political representation, save for one designated member of the Iranian parliament — as well as a fear that to engage with government is to tread in unsafe waters.

“On top of the general Iranian experience, which didn’t prioritize political involvement because of closed doors, the Iranian Jewish experience is a much more compounded version of that, because Jews had to deal with the stigma of being Jews,” said David Nahai, an Iranian Jew who was appointed by L.A.’s mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, as CEO of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “We’re basically two generations out of the ghetto.”

This negative view of voting and politics has not been confined to the older generation. Even the children of immigrants, the vast majority of whom arrived in America in the wake of the fall of the shah in 1979, have inherited their predecessors’ prevailing attitudes.

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