As Reza Pahlavi, son of the former shah of Iran, took the stage, the overflow audience of Iranian Jews rose as one. They waved Iranian, American and Israeli flags, broke into rhythmic clapping, and shouted in Farsi, "Long live the shah" and "We love you."
The heir to the deposed Iranian monarchy had come to the heartland of the Iranian diaspora in the United States to pursue his 20-year advocacy of ridding his country of the theocratic regime of the ayatollahs and replacing it with a secular democracy.
Although Pahlavi did not tailor his remarks to a Jewish audience, his April 30 speech at the Simon Wiesenthal Center was greeted with emotional enthusiasm from members of the 30,000-strong Iranian Jewish community in the Greater Los Angeles area.
While he spoke in English, one woman spoke in Farsi to assure Pahlavi that the entire Iranian Jewish community was behind him and hoped to see him as Iran's future leader.
Pahlavi appreciated the compliment but said that his current political role would be finished once an open referendum in Iran swept away the present regime. At that point, if "the people want me to play a part," he would be available.
In an earlier one-on-one interview, Pahlavi, 41 and a USC graduate, noted that while all Iranians had suffered under the human rights abuses of the present regime's "inquisition," Jews had been especially targeted.
Under his envisioned democratic state, there would be a strict separation between mosque and state, Pahlavi said. He acknowledged that during his father's reign there had been some interference by the clergy, "but that was a far cry from what we are seeing today."
As described in his current book, "Winds of Change: The Future of Democracy in Iran," Pahlavi predicts the downfall of the ayatollahs through a process of nonviolent civil disobedience, led by the increasingly disillusioned youth, who make up the bulk of the country's population.
The active support of the predominantly Muslim diaspora, which he estimated at 3.5 million worldwide, including 1.5 million in the United States, would be crucial in this effort, Pahlavi said, and cited as his model the support of the international Jewish community for Israel.
He predicted that the present regime, which he said "set a new standard for evil under the sun," would be replaced within six months to three years. In the meanwhile, however, he warned "that we cannot take it lightly when [former Iranian President Hashemi] Rafsanjani threatens to use nuclear bombs on Israel."
Following his talk, Pahlavi fielded written questions, including the last one, which asked, "When will we be able to go home?"
Pahlavi responded, "The day we commit ourselves absolutely to a democratic Iran, is the day we start packing."
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