Monday, February 23, 2009

Despite its rhetoric, Iran is 'civil' towards its Jews

In this article in the International Herald Tribune 'What Iran's Jews say', Roger Cohen thinks that Iran should be credited with not 'ethnically cleansing' their Jews as completely as Arab states. Iran is 'more sophisticated' than those countries which allow their Jews to be beaten up. (Well, thank you Iran.) He quotes Jews badmouthing Israel without sketching out the background of intimidation and fear against which they speak, and seems bizarrely to conclude that however vile Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric, it has a valid case.

"The Middle East is an uncomfortable neighborhood for minorities, people whose very existence rebukes warring labels of religious and national identity. Yet perhaps 25,000 Jews live on in Iran, the largest such community, along with Turkey's, in the Muslim Middle East. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran; here in Esfahan a handful cater to about 1,200 Jews, survivors of an almost 3,000-year-old community.

"Over the decades since Israel's creation in 1948 and the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the number of Iranian Jews has dwindled from about 100,000. But the exodus has been far less complete than from Arab countries, where some 800,000 Jews resided when modern Israel came into being.

"In Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Iraq - countries where more than 485,000 Jews lived before 1948 - less than 2,000 remain. The Arab Jew has perished. The Persian Jew has fared better.

"Of course, Israel's unfinished cycle of wars has been with Arabs, not Persians, a fact that explains some of the discrepancy.

"Still a mystery hovers over Iran's Jews. It's important to decide what's more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations - or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.

"Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran - its sophistication and culture - than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

"That may be because I'm a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that all the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian television, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it's because I'm convinced the "Mad Mullah" caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 - a position popular in American Jewish circles - is misleading and dangerous.

"I know, if many Jews left Iran, it was for a reason. Hostility exists. The trumped-up charges of spying for Israel against a group of Shiraz Jews in 1999 showed the regime at its worst. Jews elect one representative to Parliament, but can vote for a Muslim if they prefer. A Muslim, however, cannot vote for a Jew.

"Among minorities, the treatment of the Bahai - seven of whom were arrested recently on charges of spying for Israel - is brutally harsh.

"I asked Morris Motamed, once the Jewish member of the Majlis, if he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling. "I don't," he replied. "In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews." He said "Death to Israel" chants bother him, but went on to criticize the "double standards" that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran.

"Double standards don't work any more; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran's scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel's bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace - and engagement with Tehran - will have to take account of these points."

Read article in full

JTA blog - Uriel Heilman (23 February)

Jewish Journal of LA blog - Karmel Melamed (23 February)

Roger Cohen's very happy visit with Iran's Jews - Jeffrey Goldberg's blog

Roger Cohen: useful idiot - Michael Rubin's blog

Update: Roger Cohen defends his article in a second piece that selectively quotes people praising it

Karmel Melamed responds

The truth about the Jews of Iran


Anonymous said...

This article appeared in both the IHT and the New York Times, on the op-editorial page. Refutation is essential.

Also, Cohen's figures are inaccurate. The number of Jews who fled Islamic countries is just under one millionm, and the original Jewish population of Iran may have been as high as 150,000.

Anonymous said...

Here is the NYT article. Registration is free for those who care to commenton Cohen's naivete.

Anonymous said...

An early but excellent comment left this morning on the NYT site:

"Roger Cohen seems always to bring a different point of view to his columns, but as someone who has also traveled the world, I would feel more comfortable if he were published in the New Yorker fiction section than the New York Times."

ShamSham said...

This Cohen article is truly abominable. If you have been following Cohen's recent articles in the Times, he has systematically been attempting to downplay the misdeeds and ugly nature of the Iranian regime.

Cohen probably believes he is being a "good Jew" in trying to avert some kind of military conflict between the US/Israel and Iran.

The reality is though, the more the international community turns a blind eye to this problem, the more likely a military resolution becomes.