The community is vocal about the multiple forms of discrimination under which its members live — but without questioning the legitimacy of the regime or the system of Sharia, or Islamic law, by which it governs.
“We succeeded in getting blood money compensation equalized for minorities,”
Motamed said. “Before, there was a big difference between the money for minorities and the main population…. It was a very big achievement.”
But the community’s approach did not involve any criticism of Sharia, which rules on such matters. Instead, Motamed, recalled, “We consulted a lot of ayatollahs and took testimony from high-ranking clerics to show there must be equality” under Sharia.
Pleased as he was, Motamed noted that blood money compensation for non-Muslims remains unequal in cases of murder — and that they are continuing to push on this.
“Under Sharia… if a Muslim kills a Jew, there will be blood money payment. But if a Jew kills a Muslim, the penalty is execution,” he said. Here, too, “we’ve consulted with a lot of ayatollahs and gotten letters. But it’s still not solved.”
Other unresolved issues the leaders cited involved access to high-ranking posts in government ministries and the requirement that a Muslim serve as principal at Jewish schools.
“We have five schools,” Najafabadi said, “and the principals in all of them are Muslim. There’s no enmity. They’re very cooperative. But it’s kind of insulting.”
Then there is inheritance law: Under Sharia in Iran, if one sibling in a non-Muslim family converts to Islam, he inherits the entirety of his parents’ assets. This, too, community leaders are pushing to change.
“There are people traveling to Israel,” Najafabadi volunteered. But since the Gaza War of last summer, the government had clamped down, he said. Some who go are imprisoned, fined and interrogated. Two community members had been sentenced to 91 days, though this was later reduced to 20 days. Travel to Israel “is declining now because of these problems,” he said.
Moreh Sedgh even voiced concern for Israel, in his way — his way being to criticize Israel’s policies as harmful for Israel’s own interests.
Speaking about Israel’s policy of opposing Syria’s regime under Bashar al-Assad, which Iran supports, Moreh Sedgh said, “The main enemy of Israel today is Daesh” — a reference to the extremist Islamic State fighting to oust Assad. “Of course, the Assad family are not the ideal leaders for Syria,” he said. But he noted that if Assad is ousted, they “must be ready for ISIS. What benefit for Israel would that be?”
Despite all these issues, those Iranian Jews who choose to stay can live a very active Jewish religious and communal life. My second-to-last night in Iran, I was invited to meet with the local leaders of the Shiraz community in the large open-air compound that serves as their community center. About the size of a football field, the compound is surrounded by high walls that ensure the privacy of those who come. Tables were spread out with ample food, and by 11 p.m., Jewish families totaling some 50 or 60 individuals, including children, were dining and moving around from table to table to catch up on the local gossip.