April 3, 2008
Iranian Jews still awaiting apology from Muslim singer
Dariush live in Las Vegas 2007
The concert at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas was advertised as a "night to remember," and it lived up to the hype.
During the Dariush Eghbali concert on Dec. 23, which drew about 5,000 Iranian Americans, local Iranian Jewish fans were shocked when the popular Iranian Muslim singer made what some considered to be an anti-Semitic remark between songs.
Despite a recent meeting with Eghbali, the controversy continues, more than three months later, as the Iranian Jewish community awaits an official apology from the singer.
During the concert, Eghbali quoted an alleged passage from a book he attributed to Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran, best known in the United States for the book "The Prophet."
In a video clip (since removed) from the Las Vegas concert posted to Eghbali's Web site, dariush2000.com, the singer speaks in Persian, saying, "Different people have different talents." He elaborates, saying that Iranians notice one bad tree in a beautiful park; Germans are power-seekers; Italians are fashion-oriented; and Jews are "mochareb," which is the Persian word for "saboteurs."
After making the statement, Eghbali reiterated that the words were Gibran's and told the audience he had a message of harmony and peace for all peoples.
Iranian Jews who attended the concert began circulating e-mails denouncing the singer, calling for boycotts of his shows. Others called on Calabasas-based concert promoter Tapesh to pressure Eghbali into making a formal apology. Tapesh issued a written statement to the media indicating they were not responsible for the comment he made and did not endorse it.
In late February, Iraj Shamsian, a close Iranian Jewish friend of Eghbali, brokered a meeting between the singer and nine leaders from the local Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF).
"At the meeting Dariush said he really didn't think Jewish people are saboteurs and it was something he read in a Farsi-translated book," Shamsian said. "At the meeting he clarified that he never meant to hurt anyone and was sorry some people were hurt by what he said."
Elias Eshaghian, chairman of the IAJF, said that while he and other Iranian Jewish leaders were initially pleased with the outcome of the meeting with Eghbali, they are awaiting a formal letter of apology from the singer.
"We are surprised that even though he expressed his regret over his statement ... he has still not released a written apology to start healing the wounds in our community," Eshaghian said.
Shamsian said the 57-year-old singer, who lives in Los Angeles and Paris, was shocked by the allegations of anti-Semitism and disappointed with the e-mails circulated about him.
"He was very hurt when he received those e-mails," Shamsian said. "He told me it was one of the worst experiences of his life, because after 40 years of being a beloved performer in the Persian community he never thought Jewish people would think he was anti-Semitic. He's always had a message of harmony amongst all people."
The controversy surrounding Eghbali's statement briefly unified the local Iranian Jewish community, which is often plagued by infighting. During a Jan. 2 meeting, nearly 70 Iranian Jewish leaders from different organizations gathered at the IAJF synagogue in West Hollywood to discuss the community's response to Eghbali's comments.
The community leadership agreed that a tempered response to the incident would be needed once the singer issued a formal apology.
"We need to respond to [Eghbali] properly but also calm our community because emotions are running high," said Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. "We need to use our energies in more productive ways to help resolve other more serious issues the community faces."
Iranian Jews who have seen the online video of Eghbali's Las Vegas concert said his statement may have been insensitive but was not intended to be anti-Semitic when placed in context, since he was calling on all people of the world to set aside their differences and unite in harmony.
"There is no benefit in him [Eghbali] saying something negative about Jews," said Bijan Khalili, an Iranian Jewish publisher. "Unlike Ahmadinejad who wins support in the Arab streets by bad-mouthing Israel and the Jews, Dariush wins nothing by make any alleged anti-Semitic statement -- so it's obvious there was no negative intent by him."
Karmel Melamed has more on this story in the Iranian American Jews blog.
Khalili said Eghbali is not known to have made anti-Semitic remarks in the past and has enjoyed a strong Jewish fan base for 30 years.
Shamsian also defended Eghbali, saying the singer "does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body [nor] have I never heard Dariush say anything anti-Semitic or express hate for any religious group."
Eghbali, who is on tour in Europe, did not return repeated calls for comment.
Iranian Jews, for the most part, have enjoyed warm relations with their Muslim compatriots since both groups immigrated to Southern California following the 1979 Iranian revolution. Khalili and other local Iranian Jews said they did not want isolated incidents like the one involving Eghbali blown out of proportion and jeopardizing their existing friendships with Iranian Muslims.
Dariush Fakheri, one of the founders of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, said he was disappointed with the IAJF for missing the opportunity to really engage Eghbali and educate local Iranian Muslims about anti-Semitism through help from Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.
"We are not radical Islamic leaders to issue fatwas against people who insult us," Fakheri said. "We as Jews are a peace-loving people and should have put together seminars to educate Muslims about issues of anti-Semitism -- after this incident we see the importance of gatherings such as these."
Iranian Jewish activist Noorollah Gabai (left) and Iranian Jewish publisher Bijan Khalili at IAJF meeting on January 2. Photo by Karmel Melamed