Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Relations turn deadly between Jews and Persians

Israel and Iran are at daggers drawn, as Iran's missile-rattling last week testifies. But it was not always thus, declares Claire M. Lopez, an intelligence specialist, in this succinct analysis for the Middle East Times.

" Jews and Persians have, in fact, millennia of cordial relations between them; it is only in the past three decades that the relationship has turned deadly.

The historical presence of a small Jewish minority in Iran dates to the Babylonian captivity of biblical times: when Cyrus the Great freed the captive Jewish people, not all chose to return home.

At the 1948 formation of the State of Israel, there were some 100,000 Jews living in Iran — a factor that must have figured to some extent in the quick establishment of good relations with the shah by Israel's first national leadership.

Over the next quarter century, this Jewish community in Iran prospered as they played an important role in the economic and cultural life of the country. A good fit in economic and trade matters saw a steady exchange of Iranian oil in return for Israeli technical expertise in agricultural areas and high quality military hardware for the shah's rapidly modernizing armed forces. The development of Israel's nuclear weapons program, discreet but hardly a secret, aroused no evident concern in the shah's Iran.

Strains of anti-Semitism, historically an integral element of Islamic jihadi ideology in general, had begun to expand anew in the first part of the 20th century. As the Zionist movement developed from 19th century dreams into the reality of fulfillment with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, key figures such as Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, stoked latent Arab hatred of Jews as he joined forces with Adolf Hitler's Nazi war machine.

But when Holocaust survivors actually succeeded in re-constituting the Jewish homeland, in one fell swoop, Jews achieved the impossible: they cast off their dhimmi status and established a modern nation state on land Muslims considered sacred (the waqf).

And while Iran's deeply conservative Shiite clergy did not automatically share the Arab world's resentment against the upstart Jewish nation, their own seething hostility toward the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty, at once secular and repressive, had turned outward against the shah's friends and allies long before the 1979 revolution.

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was among a minority of Iran's deeply traditional Shiite marjas who absorbed and nurtured the virulent anti-Semitic motifs that eddied up from early Koranic references, certain German political philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, and the full-fledged poison of Nazi ideology.

Khomeini's mentor, the Ayatollah Abol-Shassem Kahsani, an intensely anti-Semitic cleric himself, also played a defining role.

Of course, it's not just anti-Semitism that fuels today's enmity between Iran and Israel. Largely a creation of European Jews whose long centuries of exile steeped them in the thinking and values of Western civilization, today's State of Israel is also an outpost of modern, secular, democratic, civil society — which, of course, makes it anathema to the tradition-bound mores of an Islamic society hearkening back to the seventh century.

So it was that when Khomeini took power in his 1979 coup d'etat, tens of thousands of Iran's Jews fled to Israel, Israel's key world ally (the United States) became the Great Satan, and relations between the two countries took a nosedive.

Today, Iran's theocracy is seized with a millennialist fervor that harnesses the bitter resentments of its IRGC Iraq war survivors to spearhead its 21st century geo-strategic ambitions. The theological inspiration draws from belief in the return of the Disappeared 12th Imam (or Mahdi), who is expected to return to earth in time of great chaos and strife to usher in the Day of Judgment and preside over 1,000 years of peace and justice. The Shahab-3 missiles project the more earthly ambitions of a would-be nuclear power.

The lines are drawn; Iran and Israel are at swords' points. The implications for the United States and the world are incalculable. What is not known is what are Israel's ultimate red lines, what is the final tipping point that could spell the difference between militaristic posturing and war. Jews and Persians have never fought a war. They needn't now if tolerance and reason can somehow triumph over blind faith in thrall to seventh century zeal.

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Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The author claims that "only the past three decades relations turn deadly" between Jews and Muslims, "after Millenia of cordial relations".

This is totally untrue. Around 1500 the Shia Safavid Dynasty emerged as rulers in Persia. At that time 2% of Persians were Shia. Today over 90% of Iranians are Shia, resulting from fierce persecutions of all non-Shia.

By the late 18th century the Safavid rulers allowed the Shia clergy to start running key state affairs such as relations with other religions.

Shia Islam is virulently anti-Jewish, even more so than Sunni Islam. As a matter of fact it seems that the reason that Jews still exist in Iran is for PR reasons, supporting the "anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic" claim. When reading the following, bear in mind that in Shia theology one of the things "proving" that the Jews are cursed is the fact that they are poor...

From Bernard Lewis, on Jews in 19th century Iran:

The Jewish traveler J.J. Benjamin, who traveled in Iran at mid-[19th] century, summarized the misfortunes of the Persian Jews under fifteen headings:

1. Throughout Persia the Jews are obliged to live in a part of the town separated from the other inhabitants; but they are considered as unclean creatures, who bring contamination with their intercourse and presence.

2. They have no right to carry on trade in stuff goods.

3. Even in the streets of their own quarter of the town they are not allowed to keep any open shop. They may only sell their spices and drugs, or carry on the trade of a jeweler, in which they have attained great perfection.

4. Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity, and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt.

5. For the same reason, they are forbidden to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans.

6. If a Jew is recognized as such in the streets, he is subjected to the greatest insults. The passersby spit in his face, and sometimes beat him on unmercifully, that he falls to the ground, and is obliged to be carried home.

7. If a Persian kills a Jew, and the family of the deceased can bring forward two Mussulmans as witnesses to the fact, the murderer is punished by a fine of 12 tumauns (600 piastres); but if two such witnesses cannot be produced, the crime remains unpunished, even though it has been publicly committed, and is well known.

8. The flesh of the animals slaughtered according to Hebrew custom, but as Trefe declared, must not be sold to any Mussulmans. The slaughterers are compelled to bury the meat, for even the Christians do not venture to buy it, fearing the mockery and insult of the Persians.

9. If a Jew enters a shop to buy anything, he is forbidden to inspect the goods, but must stand at a respectful distance and ask the price. Should his hand incautiously touch the goods, he must take them at any price the seller chooses to ask for them.

10. Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever pleases them, should the owner make the least opposition in defence of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life.

11. Upon the least dispute between a Jew and a Persian, the former is immediately dragged before the Achund [religious authority], and, if the complainant can bring forward two witnesses, the Jew is condemned to pay a heavy fine. If he is too poor to pay this penalty in money, he must pay it in his person. He is stripped to the waist, bound to a stake, and receives forty blows with a stick. Should the sufferer utter the least cry of pain during this proceeding, the blows already given are not counted, and the punishment is begun afresh.

12. In the same manner the Jewish children, then they get into a quarrel with those of the Mussulmans, are immediately led before the Achund, and punished with blows.

13. A Jew who travels in Persia is taxed in every inn and every caravanserai he enters. If he hesitates to satisfy demands that may happen to be made on him, they fall upon him, and maltreat him until he yields to their terms.

14. If, as already mentioned, a Jew shows himself in the street during the three days of the Katel (feast of mourning for the death of the Persian founder of the religion of Ali) he is sure to be murdered.

15. Daily and hourly new suspicions are raised against the Jews, in order to obtain excuses for fresh extortions; the desire of gain is always the chief incitement to fanaticism.

bataween said...

You are right, Mike W, that Shi'a Islam is more anti-Jewish than Sunni Islam. Much of the restrictions Lewis describes are common to both, except that Shi'ism has the added stricture of 'nijas' treating the Jews as unclean.