Jewish Journal

Expressing Outrage

Locals react following sentences for 10 of the 13 Shiraz Jews.

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Jul. 6, 2000 at 8:00 pm

On Sunday, July 2, a handful of demonstrators in New York vent their frustration with the harsh verdict in the "Iran 13" trial.Photo by David Karp/JTA

On Sunday, July 2, a handful of demonstrators in New York vent their frustration with the harsh verdict in the "Iran 13" trial.Photo by David Karp/JTA

Throughout Los Angeles, Iranian Jews stood by their phones and radios at 1 a.m. Saturday to hear the first news on the sentences imposed on the "Shiraz 13" Jews, charged with spying for Israel."My wife has been crying ever since," said Cyrus Javaherian some 15 hours later. His wife, Nezrim, is the sister of Nasser Levi Haim, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

"We never expected that Nasser would get such a long sentence," said Javaherian. "He worked for a power company and taught Torah. That's what he did all his life, he only did good."Others were too busy to cry. Within a couple of hours, Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, had put together a two-hour broadcast beamed via a Farsi-language station in Los Angeles to Iran and Iranian communities in the Diaspora.

It took Pooya Dayanim, George Haroonian and Frank Nikbakht even less time to draft and distribute a statement by the Council of Iranian Jewish Organizations pledging a relentless struggle to free the prisoners and safeguard the remaining Jews of Iran.

At 10 a.m., many members of the 35,000-strong Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles, by now exceeding the 25,000 Jews left in Iran itself, assembled in their synagogues in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley.

At the Eretz Cultural Center in Reseda, Rabbi Nooralah Yazdi led 350 worshipers in "Mi shebeirach" prayers, invoking God's blessing for the redemp-tion of the prisoners. He then asked the congregation to stand for a minute's silence.

During a Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations press conference on Sunday, Congressman Brad Sherman declared the "world should condemn the Iranian government for conducting these Stalin-style show trials and for these long sentences, and governments should take action to let the Iranians know that their diplomatic and especially financial relations will suffer as a result of the sentences.""Our policy toward the Iranians should be 'no justice, no caviar.'"

Sherman announced that he was going forward with legislation he introduced last week as an amendment to the yearly spending bill for agricultural programs which would prevent the importation of Iranian caviar, nuts and fruits.

Wiesenthal Center's leaders Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rabbi Marvin Hier, who were both in Israel at the moment of the verdict, issued a joint statement: "This verdict, like the trial which preceded it, is a travesty of justice, a cabal against the Jewish people, and a violation of the most elementary norms of international law. ... We call on the United States to immediately freeze all bilateral contacts designed to reconstitute relations with Tehran and for the member states of the European Union to recall their ambassadors in Iran for consultations. We reiterate our call to the Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene and release these innocent pawns of tyranny."

Kermanian noted that the "show trial of l3 Jewish prisoners ... lacked every element of fairness and due process. The purpose was clearly not the pursuit of justice; its purpose was to produce convictions at any cost."

In more than a dozen conversations with Iranian Jews, anger at the harsh prison sentences imposed on 10 of the Shiraz 13 far outweighed any sense of relief that they had been spared death sentences.Marjan Keypour, an associate director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she was outraged by the verdicts. "Every day they have to stay in prison is too much," she said.

A 21-year-old UCLA student, who asked that his name be withheld because his parents still live in Iran, grew up in Shiraz. "I know the 13 who were arrested," he said. "They were my teachers and the friends with whom I played soccer. I know they did nothing wrong."

Avi Davidi, a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Southern California, could judge the validity of the charges brought against the Shiraz 13 by his own experiences.

"Back in 1982, my family tried to leave Iran by crossing the border into Pakistan," he said. "Before we could make it, we were arrested. When the police found out that we were Jews, they immediately accused us of being Zionist spies. My father, mother, brother and myself had to spend some time in jail."

Dr. Pejman Salimpour, a pediatrician, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the verdicts. "Over several millennia in Iran, whenever there was a problem, the Jews were scapegoated."

He expressed little faith that the sentences would be reduced on appeal. "The only chance would be a massive reaction by Iran's main trading partners, such as Germany, France and Japan," he said.Dariush Cadry agreed, charging that the Iranian judiciary was bitterly anti-Semitic, "concealed as anti-Zionism."

He predicted that an appeal of the sentences would be fruitless, because "we would still be dealing with the same judiciary."

Some of those interviewed predicted that the verdicts would trigger a final exodus of Iranian Jews, whose number once stood at 100,000. Others were skeptical, noting that most Jews still in Iran had neither the money nor skills to make it in a new country.

Kermanian and Dayanim, who had both been involved in backroom contacts with Iranian authorities since the Shiraz 13 were jailed 18 months ago, said they were taken aback by the lengths of the sentences."We have been deceived," said Dayanim. "We were given to understand that except for Dani Tefileen [who got 13 years] all others would receive no more than two to three years."

Kermanian said he expected that two or three among the defendants would get a maximum of 10 years in prison, with the rest receiving much lighter sentences.

Nikbakht and Dayanim did point out some of the more hopeful outcomes of the events in Iran as well as the transformational effects the trial produced on the Iranian-Jewish community in Los Angeles.

Nikbakht saw the prison sentences as a reflection of a major retreat on the part of the Iranian government: "They had the option of imposing 40 years in prison or death," he said. "In addition, we are hearing the prisoners may be pardoned in the future. Of course what that could mean is that the Iranians are threatening us: If we continue making noise, in the end they might not pardon the prisoners. But it is also a sign of weakness. We believe all this is due to the powerful international pressure on the Iranian government."The long battle to save the Shiraz 13 has had at least one positive byproduct, said Dayanim.

"We've managed to wake up an apolitical community. Iranians have never had a democracy in their 2,700 year history. Iranian Jews were never really part of the American Jewish community. If anything came out of this, it was the relationships we built. A lot of distrust fell away.

"We never expected that the American Jewish community and its major organizations would work so hard on this cause," he said. "We have formed many friendships, which will help to integrate the Iranian Jewish community into the general Jewish community."

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