More than 2,000 Southern California Iranians from various religious backgrounds gathered in Westwood last weekend to demonstrate against calls for Israel's destruction by Iran's new president. Participants held high the flags of Iran, Israel and the United States as they marched along Wilshire Boulevard near the Federal Building.
Speakers as well as marchers denounced comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, during a televised state-run anti-Zionism rally in Tehran on Oct. 26, referred to Israel as that "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map."
Leaders around the world condemned Ahmadinejad's statement, but the Iranian expatriate community in Los Angeles decided to send its own unambiguous message.
"The beauty of what's happening is that it has been initiated by the Iranian community -- the non-Jewish Iranian community," said Ali-Reza Morovati, general manager of KRSI "Radio Sedaye Iran," a Persian-language satellite and Internet radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts around the world.
Representatives of eight Southern California-based Persian language media outlets -- two newspapers, four television programs and two radio stations, all owned by Iranian Muslims -- have condemned the Iranian president. Each of the outlets published or broadcast a joint letter decrying the statements against Israel. The letter was especially significant because it marked the first time that the local Iranian Muslim media displayed public support for Israel. These media organizations had never, in the past, openly criticized similar anti-Israel rhetoric coming from Iranian government officials.
Nearly 20 Iranian Muslim journalists and political activists signed the letter that characterized the criticisms of Israel as the "mad hallucinations of Ahmadinejad," whose view "does not reflect the true sentiments of the people of Iran. Ahmadinejad does not speak for Iranians!"
"We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people," said Assadollah Morovati, the owner of KRSI. The 80-year-old Morovati started the station 18 years ago with the specific goal of bringing down Iran's Islamic regime. He said listeners inside Iran and elsewhere around the world have frequently called to voice their strong dissent for Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel comments.
"The Iranian people and Jews have shared a history of 2,500 years from the time of Cyrus the Great, who gave them freedom," said Morovati, who'd served in Iran's parliament prior to the country's 1979 Islamic revolution. "Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel."
Before the revolution, Iran was one of Israel's closest allies in the Middle East; the regime of the late Shah of Iran enjoyed strong political and trade relations with Israel.
The rally's participants evoked a strong affection for the late and deposed Shah of Iran, whom many émigrés said protected Iran's Jewish community. The flag of the Shah's regime was held aloft by many as the true flag of Iran. Under the present government, Iranian Jews face constant intimidation -- as do nontraditional Muslim women and those criticize the government.
Some local Iranian Muslim media personalities said they signed the letter to take a stance against Iran's totalitarian government -- and not because of any specific affinity for Israel.
"We are not necessarily defending Israel -- their government is more than capable of doing that on its own -- but we wanted to point out the absurdity of comments made by those in Iran's current government," said Homayoon Hooshiarnejad, owner of Asre Emrooz, a daily Persian-language newspaper based in the San Fernando Valley.
The reaction to Ahmadinejad's comments from Southern California's Iranian Jewish community leaders has been cautious -- their comments in the past have been used by Iranian government officials as an excuse to seek reprisals against the nearly 15,000 Jews still living in Iran.
"At a time when Iran is under suspicion for pursuit of nuclear weapons, it is extremely difficult to find any wisdom in Mr. Ahmadinejad's threats against another country which is perceived to be a nuclear power," said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.
Additional reporting by David Finnigan.