Looming Fate of the Iranian Jewish Community

March 17, 2012  

While Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and unremitting threats to wipe the State of Israel off the map continue to make daily headlines and attract endless speculation, the fate of the Jewish community living in Iran has yet to be examined.

Many Jews who emigrated to Israel from the Islamic Republic worry that an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could expose their family and friends still in the country to grave retaliation, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Jewish roots in Iran date back over 2,700 years and the Jewish community there today numbers about 25,000, the third largest in the Middle East, after Israel and Turkey.

“The community tries to lie low, Iran’s leadership has generally not retaliated against Iranian Jews over tensions with Israel, in part because it likes to tout their presence as proof of the government’s tolerance. The biggest exception to that was the trial in 2000 of 13 Iranian Jews on charges of spying for Israel,” explained the AP. This trial resulted in international condemnation for its lack of accepted legal norms.

Kamal Penhasi, who runs Israel’s only Persian newspaper, Shahyad, said that the Iranian government is “unstable and unpredictable. If there is a war, you can’t tell what the response to the community will be.”

Yet, Siamak Merehsedq, the current Jewish lawmaker in the Iranian parliament, told the AP that, “No matter who dares to attack our country, we will stand against the threats like other Iranian people.”

An Israeli strike, however, has the ability to significantly test the government’s policy toward the community.

Meir Litwak, an Iran expert at Tel Aviv University, said it is doubtful the government would lash out at Jews in Iran.  The regime “has to treat Jews well to show that Jews can live under a Muslim regime as a protected minority, so there is no legal or moral reason for the existence of a Jewish state,” he said.

Others are afraid that even if Iran refrains from directly attacking the Jewish community, it may enable the police to idly stand by as other perpetrate anti-Semitic assaults.

“The government could say, ‘The people did it, and police forces couldn’t stop them,'” said a Jewish citizen of Iran. 

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