By B. Cohen
American-led efforts to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program may have reached a dead end this week, but claims that the human rights situation in the country has improved – a popular theme as the Obama Administration pushed for a historic rapprochement with Tehran – continue to spread through the media.
At the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution, around 100,000 Jews were living in Iran. That number has now dwindled to not more than 20,000. While the experience of Iran’s Jews since Ayatollah Khomeini seized power has been marked by repression, arrests, and a media-led diet of Holocaust denial, according to a report by Associated Press reporter Ali Akbar Dareini, that situation is now changing.
Iran’s Jews, Dareini says, have “found new acceptance under moderate President Hassan Rouhani.” Homayoun Samiah, leader of the Tehran Jewish Association, is quoted as saying, “The government has listened to our grievances and requests. That we are being consulted is an important step forward. Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nobody was listening to us. Our requests fell on deaf ears.”
Since Rouhani took office last year, Dareini writes, “Jews say they have been heartened by the support they’ve received. His government agreed to allow Jewish schools to be closed on Saturdays to mark Shabbat, the day of rest. Rouhani also allocated the equivalent of $400,000 to a Jewish charity hospital in Tehran and invited the country’s only Jewish lawmaker to accompany him to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year.”
However, continued skepticism of the Iranian regime’s true intentions is warranted. A report issued in March this year, several months after Rouhani came to power, by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, noted that “under the law, religious minorities, including recognized Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, also face discrimination in the judicial system, such as harsher punishments than Muslims for certain crimes, and are barred from serving as judges.”
Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist and the Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Circle, a Berlin-based think-tank, told The Algemeiner that the AP article “misses many key issues about how difficult circumstances are for the Iranian Jewish community.”
“Iranian Jews have to constantly distance themselves from Israel and Zionism, their synagogues are literally falling apart and discrimination against them is run by the Iranian state – Jews can’t become civil servants under the Islamic Republic,” Farzan said. “Things might have improved a little bit, but anti-Semitism is a founding pillar of the Iranian regime.”
Rouhani’s rhetoric on Israel is a little different from that of his predecessor, Ahmadinejad. In July, during the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, the Iranian president described Israel as a “festering Zionist tumor” that had “turned the land of olives into destruction and blood and littered the land with the body parts of Palestinian children.”
Visiting New York for the UN General Assembly in 2013, Rouhani dodged a question from NBC journalist Ann Curry, who asked him whether he shared Ahmadinejad’s view that the Holocaust was a “myth.” “I’m not a historian. I’m a politician,” Rouhani answered. “What is important for us is that the people, the nations in our region should get closer to one another.” And a few weeks before that exchange, Rouhani’s office denied that he had tweeted greetings to the Jewish community on the occasion of Rosh Hashana, saying, “President Hassan Rouhani has no tweeter (sic) account.”