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Jewish Journal

Iran’s Jewish legislator criticized during L.A. appearance

by Karmel Melamed

December 14, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Maurice Motamed, Jewish representative in Iranian Parliment. Photo by Karmel Melamed

Maurice Motamed, Jewish representative in Iranian Parliment. Photo by Karmel Melamed

A group of local Iranian Jewish activists spoke out in protest of the Dec. 4 appearance of Maurice Motamed, the only Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, at the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) synagogue in West Hollywood, where he provided an update on the current status of Iran's Jewry.

Motamed's address to an audience of nearly 150 mostly older Iranian Jews painted a positive picture of the lives of Jews in Iran. He described them as generally financially well off and said they are allowed to practice their religion without being harassed. Evidence of this, he said, can be seen in the fact that a new Jewish community center is planned in Teheran on a land recently purchased for $5 million.

However, Motamed's speech sparked sharp criticism from the Council of Iranian Jews, a small Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish group whose leadership said welcoming a member of Iran's current regime provided a forum for the repressive government.

"Our community members clearly know he [Motamed] is acting on the orders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," said George Haroonian, an activist with the Council of Iranian Jews. "He represents a regime that every day calls for the destruction of Israel, denies the Holocaust as a state policy and is the biggest financial and practical support of groups whose main goal is the murder of Jewish people."

Motamed dismissed those opposing his presence at the IAJF synagogue and, without naming names, accused them of attacking his character in order to advance their own personal agendas.

"Unfortunately those who say these things approached me three years ago and wanted information about the internal affairs of Iran," Motamed said in an interview with The Journal. "And since I have not given it to them, they have a personal opposition and vengeance against me."

Four IAJF board members attended, and Nessah Cultural Center's Rabbi David Shofet appeared briefly, but no other prominent local Iranian Jewish leaders were present at the event.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and local expert on the treatment of minorities in Iran, claims Motamed's statements about Jewish life in Iran lack credibility. Motamed "has officially sworn to uphold the interests of Islam and the Islamic Republic upon entering the Islamic Assembly as the Jewish representative, as required by the government's constitution," Nikbakht said.

Nikbakht questioned Motamed's allegiances based on a 24-page Persian-language report authored and distributed by Motamed at an event held at the Nessah Cultural Center during a visit to Los Angeles in 2002. In the report, Motamed outlined his activities as a member of the Energy Committee in the Iranian Parliament as well as his travels to Russia, where he urged Russian companies and officials to complete Iran's nuclear reactor at the Bushehr location.

IAJF leaders defended Motamed's current visit as well as his efforts to protect Jews living under Iran's fundamentalist regime.

"He is in a very sensitive position and is walking a tight rope in trying to keep our community there safe and sound," said Solomon Rastegar, vice-chair of the IAJF. "There are people here in Los Angeles with insufficient knowledge about life in Iran who try to attack him so they can gain credible for themselves."

Some local Iranian Jewish activists have been had odds with IAJF leaders who have long advocated keeping criticism of Teheran's regime to a minimum for fear of retributions that might be brought against the roughly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

During the question-and-answer segment of the event, Motamed defended his record as a Jewish advocate saying he had spoken out against comments made earlier this year by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied the existence of the Holocaust. Motamed also said he has been trying to resolve the case of 12 missing Iranian Jews who tried to flee Iran nearly 12 years ago.

Motamed had been slated to speak at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 during a seminar on the future security of Jews living in Iran. The event was hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of Iranian Jewish Women's Organization (IJWO), but Motamed cancelled his appearance at the last minute citing scheduling difficulties.

During his speech at IAJF, Motamed denied accusations that his invitation to the Museum of Tolerance event had been withdrawn, and he claimed to have the full support and confidence of Iranian Jews worldwide.

"What is important to me is that I feel the support of the 20,000 Jews in Iran and the Iranian Jewish community outside Iran," Motamed said. "Therefore everything else that is said is unimportant to me."

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