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Persian Jews Divided on War

"This war will not solve anything."

by Mojdeh Sionit

March 20, 2003 | 7:00 pm

"I am all for this war, all humanity should be for it," said Ramin Shookhtim, a Persian Jew who left Iran in 1987 to study in the United States.

"Although there is no single solution against terrorism and terrorism will always be there, I think this war would help the fight against terrorism," said the 38-year-old businessman, who was separated from his family for years until they could finally join him here in Los Angeles.

Shookhtim is one among many in Los Angeles' Persian Jewish community who support the war. The 15,000-40,000 Persian Jews living in Los Angeles know firsthand the cruelties of dictatorship, and that knowledge often strengthens their desire to topple Saddam Hussein and free the Iraqi people.

Yaacov Yarkoni, 33, whose father was born in Iran, believes that the war against Iraq should only be the first step in combating terror worldwide.

"I think that Saddam is not the only source of terrorism and this war cannot absolutely solve terrorism problem. I also believe that there are many dictators around the world who deserve the same justice that we will hopefully exact upon Saddam," he said, noting that he is not optimistic about the prospect of continuing the war against terror after Iraq.

"Because of the way human interest groups work, I do not believe we will ever do anything about other terrorist groups," he said.

Like many Jewish leaders in the community, Rabbi Reuven Malekan, who works with various Persian Jewish organizations, is torn about the prospect of war.

"Personally, I am against violence," he said. "People in life strive for peace." He says that Jewish tradition offers conflicting teachings about war: on one hand, it says you should help an enemy in hard times, but it also says if someone comes to kill you, you kill him first.

Malekan said the latter applies.

"Saddam is a dictator, nothing is important to him," Malekan said. "Killing his own people, starting war with Iran showed that nothing matters to him. He has had enough opportunities to correct himself."

But like the mainstream Jewish community and the U.S. community at large, there are dissenters.

A number of Persian Jews joined a Feb. 15 anti-war rally in Hollywood. Because of their background, some Persian Jews are ardently opposed to war.

"I am against war; this war will not solve anything," said a 26-year-old Persian woman who preferred not to give her name.

Three years ago she left Iran and her relatives, and she does not want a U.S. attack on Iraq to spread war her native country.

"As long as good and bad exists in the world, terrorism will remain," she said. "Innocent people should not get involved in the war."

A Jewish Iraqi woman who fled to London in 2001 told The Journal that war was not a good idea.

"As a Jew, I have been suffering for years under the hard and strict control of Saddam's regime. I think this war is an unnecessary bloodshed. I am absolutely against it. I believe that Saddam could be toppled, but another tyrant  -- likely to be worse -- will govern Iraq. The war will exacerbate terrorism," she said.

But Persian Jews, like all American citizens, are finding that their opinions -- pro or con -- mean little, now that President Bush has laid out his ultimatum and is preparing to attack Iraq. But as one 35-year-old Persian Jew said, most people are divided in their own hearts, and are hoping for the best.

 "War is the worst thing that can happen since innocent people will be harmed," he said. "But at the same time, if a possible war prevents a larger scale of death and destruction in the future, it is for the best." 

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