Posted by Karmel Melamed
It always amazes me how journalists and media personalities in the U.S. and Europe label certain leaders in Iran’s government as “moderates” considering the fact that all members of the Iranian regime share the same anti-Semitic and world jihadist views. Perhaps one of the most popular Iranian leaders that are frequently referred to as “moderate” in the western media is the country’s former president Ali Akabar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Some American and European journalists who for some sick reason are apologists for Iran’s regime, consider Rafsanjani and others like him as “moderates” because their comments and statements are not always as hardline as the Iranian regime’s other leaders including Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani served as president of Iran from 1989 to 1997 and now serves as the Chairman of the “Assembly of Experts”, a theocratic government group that controls Iran’s government. Yet as an individual who follows and understands the Persian language media broadcasted out of Iran, I find no difference between the hatred and anti-Semitism spewed by Rafsanjani and others in the government. Perhaps the best example of Rafsanjani’s hatred of Jews came several weeks ago on October 1st when he told a large crowd in Tehran during his televised speech that Hitler’s treatment of Jewish people in Europe was due in part to their being “a pain in the neck”. He also said the Jews caused problems for European governments because they “had a lot of property” and “controlled an empire of propaganda”. Lastly the “moderate” Rafsanjani said that the Nazis were successful in saving Europe from the evil of Zionism. The following is a link to video footage of Rafsanjani’s broadcasted speech with subtitles provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): MEMRI TV
If the media and U.S. officials consider this type of hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from Rafsanjani as moderate, then we’re all in some serious trouble. There is clearly no difference between this man’s hateful beliefs about Jews during the Holocaust and those of Ahmadinejad who denies the Holocaust.
What is even more troubling is our elected officials and presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama have recently indicated that they would engage in negotiations with Iran. Now I am not one to advocate military actions, but a regime like the one in Iran whose leaders hold sacred their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel beliefs, do not deserve us engaging with them in any dialogue. How can any freedom and peace-loving person engage in dialogue and negotiations with leaders of Iran that are dedicated to annihilating the state of Israel? How can any peace loving person engage in dialogue and negotiations with leaders of Iran who want the world to submit to and adopt their radical beliefs of Islam? How can anyone in our democratically elected government engage ruthless dictators who want us dead and are killing our soldiers in Iraq, as is the case with Iran at this point in time.
Our objective as Americans should be to encourage our leaders in Washington to help economically and diplomatically isolate Iran. If the regime feels the squeeze from the rest of the world, then perhaps they may curb their anti-Semitic rhetoric and desires for nuclear weapons. Rafsanjani is indeed no moderate and the media needs to label him for what he really is…an anti-Semitic radical leader of a terrorist sponsoring state. If you don’t believe me, go view the hours of video footage online of Rafsanjani speaking his mind freely about the Jews.
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October 13, 2007 | 3:19 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Sam Cohan recently completed his residency. As he looked for a job locally, his student loans weighed on him. The 30-something Iranian Jew had grown up middle class in the Valley and had to take out the loans to pay for his education at a prestigious medical school.
With no immediate prospect for income, he found himself caught between feelings of frustration and guilt as his fiancee, her parents and his parents pressured him into a wedding he couldn’t afford.
Cohan didn’t want to break with Iranian tradition or disappoint either family, so he borrowed nearly $100,000 to cover the wedding expenses.
“I felt trapped with the whole situation and wanted to call everything off, but I decided to take the loan in the end because my wife agreed that we’d both work and pay it off little by little,” said Cohan, who asked that The Journal not reveal his real name.
Cohan is one of a growing number of young Iranian Jewish professionals who, due to family pressure, are incurring large debts to pay for lavish weddings.
Somewhere between keeping Iranian hospitality traditions and one-upping displays of wealth, a growing number of Iranian Jewish families today are inviting upward of 500 guests to weddings, with budgets in the six-figure range—typically from $150,000 to $300,000.
The strain of such expectations has led to infighting between families over who should cover the cost. Young professionals are also postponing marriage plans or opting instead for a destination wedding to avoid the financial pressures of holding the event in Los Angeles.
Most local Iranian Jews acknowledge the situation, but few in the community are willing to advocate for change. Rabbi Hillel Benchimol, associate rabbi of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, wants a greater dialogue on the issue.
“The problem is we are taking out the spiritual and emotional aspect of the marriage and instead it’s become a business with all the unnecessary spending,” Benchimol said. “People forget the spirit of the wedding—all you need is love, and everything else falls into place.”
Some young Iranian Jewish newlyweds say that while they did not necessarily want a large wedding, they feel pressure from their parents and extended family to put on a more lavish affair. Their parents, they say, feel an obligation to invite people whose parties they have attended.
“Persians have much more of a tight-knit community, and it’s very respect oriented—that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to 300- to 400-person weddings,” said Ario Fakheri, who was married last year. “People get upset if you don’t invite their kids or grandmothers, they look at it as disrespecting them—there are so many ways to disrespect them.”
Fakheri said that while he and his fiancee invited almost 600 people to their wedding due to family pressure, many of his friends in the community are opting to have destination weddings.
“You can tell how bad they don’t want people to come to their wedding by how far away they go,” Fakheri said. “It’s basically code for how bad you want to have a normal wedding.”
Iranian Jewish religious leaders said the cost has resulted in several weddings being called off and some couples divorcing within a few months of getting married. There’s also concern that local Iranian Jews will marry outside of the community or outside of the faith in order to escape the mounting six-figure wedding pressure.
Community activists trace the growing trend back two or three years ago when local Iranian Jews began inviting 100 to 200 guests for their children’s bale boroon parties.
The bale boroon is a traditional Iranian courtship gathering prior to the engagement, during which a dozen members from the male suitor’s family visits with a small contingent from the woman’s family. During the gathering both families acknowledge the upcoming union and offer a small gift to one another.
“Today, when they have these large parties for the bale boroon, they must then top that with something bigger for the engagement party, and as a result the wedding must be an even bigger extravaganza than the other parties,” said Asher Aramnia, events director for the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana.
Aramnia, who also volunteers as a Jewish matchmaker, said the recent trend of expensive weddings were not the norm in Iran.
“In Iran we didn’t even have catering. The family members cooked the food or those who were well-off hired one private cook,” he said. “Here I’ve been to a wedding where the groom bought the bride a cherry-red BMW and put it on display at the entrance of the hotel for all the guests to see.”
Aramnia said at another wedding he witnessed a diamond-encrusted tiara being lowered from the ceiling onto the bride’s head.
Venus Safaie, a local Iranian wedding planner with 85 percent of her clients hailing from an Iranian Jewish background, said the highest costs for most weddings she helps organize come from securing a venue at a hotel and finding Persian-language singers, who charge $8,000 to $15,000 for two or three hours of entertainment.
“Well, you have to realize that these Persian singers charge more because the cost of living has gone up, and there are not that many of them around, so they can ask whatever price they want,” Safaie said. “Also people agree to pay them these high prices, so you can’t blame the singers.”
Dara Abaei, head of the L.A. nonprofit Jewish Unity Network, said his organization has been urging families to have smaller weddings. The group has also negotiated with certain vendors to give reduced fees to couples struggling to pay for their weddings.
“We’re trying to break the cycle in the community, to get them to not have engagement parties or get smaller engagement parties and try to share the cost of wedding,” he said.
Abaei said couples can save between $7,000 to $15,000 if they hold their weddings at the banquet halls of Iranian American Jewish Federation’s synagogue in West Hollywood, the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana.
Another group, Woodland Hills-based Mayan Kheset, provides silk flower centerpieces in lieu of real flowers. The organization’s volunteers drop off and pick up the arrangements, and only ask that couples donate the money they would have spent on flowers.
“We encourage people to try to support a wedding of an orphan in Israel,” said Hirbod Cohentoe, Mayan Kheset’s founder. “We encourage couples not make their weddings so fancy, but donate some of the money to Israel or their favorite Jewish charity.”
While many local activist and religious leaders are trying to encourage Iranian Jewish families to have smaller weddings, others are calling for more radical steps to be taken.
“I have always wanted to see a revolution occur in the community when two or three affluent families that everyone knows very well, invite only 200 or 300 close relatives and friends for their weddings,” Aramnia said. “This will cause others who are trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ to copy them, and it may help solve our problem.”
Despite the community’s struggles to keep with old traditions and grapple with the high cost of weddings, experts said the pressure on young couples to have larger weddings is common in almost every culture worldwide.
“Well, there’s an old saying, ‘Every woman gets to plan a wedding—her daughter’s,’” said Dr. Sharona Nazarian, an Iranian Jewish psychologist. “It’s not just because we’re Persian or Jewish that we’re concerned. It’s universal, something that many brides and grooms have to deal with.”
While members of the local Iranian Jewish community said they were not opposed to those who had the financial means to have expensive weddings, they hoped others without such means would reconsider spending when they have to incur large debts.
“If someone can comfortably afford to spend lavishly on the wedding, that is their choice,” Nazarian said. “But it’s also important for families to work within their own means and be more concerned with their own needs as opposed to what others think about them.”
October 13, 2007 | 3:15 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The September release of a new documentary that follows Jimmy Carter on tour for his controversial book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” has reignited the longstanding animosity many Iranian Americans feel toward the former U.S. president.
The film, “Man From Plains”, reveals the sharp criticism Carter faced from Jewish groups for comparing Israeli actions toward Palestinians to the oppression of South Africa’s former apartheid regime.
Among Iranians—whether Jews, Muslims, Christians or Zoroastrians, the majority of whom have been living in the United States for nearly 30 years—Carter is still blamed for the fall of the pro-American regime of the late Shah of Iran. Many also hold Carter responsible for the loss of innocent lives and of the vast fortunes they were forced to leave behind after the 1979 overthrow of the Pahlavi government.
“I dislike Carter so much that I hate to have my name ‘Jimmy’ the same as his name,” said Jimmy Delshad, an Iranian Jew and mayor of Beverly Hills.
“Not only did Carter cause problems for Jews and non-Jews who were forced out of Iran, but he changed the whole dynamic of the Middle East by his backing of Khomeini, and that has had a whole ripple effect in the Middle East, which America is still trying to recover from,” Delshad said, referring to the Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, who led the revolutionary, fundamentalist Islamic Republic.
The Carter film is just one in a series of recent events that have rekindled Iranian Americans’ painful memories of Carter. In May, when Carter referred to the current Bush administration as “the worst in history,” many Iranian Americans charged that that title actually belongs to Carter’s administration.
“I think Jimmy Carter’s integrity is questioned,” said Dr. Solomon Meskin, an Iranian Jewish resident of Beverly Hills. “The fact that he doesn’t even acknowledge the kind of things that are going on in the Arab world and Muslim countries, where people have their rights totally ignored, and he instead cites Israel for apartheid, is totally ridiculous.”
Frank Nikbakht, director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said Iranian Americans are particularly angry at Carter and his National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who encouraged the revolution in Iran because they believed an Islamic government in Iran would help encircle the former Soviet Union and decimate Iran’s communists.
“During and following a regime such as the Shah’s, which was so dependent on the U.S. and Britain, nothing like this—the participation of the army and the Iranian secret police (SAVAK) in the handover—could have happened without their approval,” Nikbakht said.
In July 2003, when General Alexander Haig, NATO commander during the Carter Administration, gave a speech at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, he was the first U.S. official to publicly discuss Carter’s complicity in toppling the Shah’s regime. Haig indicated that he resigned his post at NATO after discovering the administration had turned its back on the Shah.
Further indications of Carter’s activities in ousting the Shah were revealed in a 2004 article in “Nameh,” a Persian-language magazine based in Iran that is now defunct. In an interview, Ibrahim Yazdi, a close confidant and former representative of Khomeini to Western nations, described extensive correspondence from Carter in 1978, prior to the revolution.
“These correspondences were going on long before the Shah left Iran, and Khomeini had promised Carter in a letter that he would not disturb the flow of oil from Iran if he came to power,” Yazdi is quoted as saying. “Then Carter, in his last correspondence to Khomeini, said the Shah will be leaving soon and asked Khomeini to return to Iran. Carter believed Iran should have an Islamic government, and I agreed with him.”
In her book “Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution” (Yale University Press 2003), UCLA professor emeritus Nikki Keddie cites William H. Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Iran, who said Brzezinski “repeatedly assured the Shah that the U.S. backed him fully,” but Carter failed to follow up on those assurances. High-level officials in the State Department believed the revolution was unstoppable.
Keddie writes that Carter could not decide how to stabilize Iran and was against another coup; his failure to move quickly plunged the country into a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Habib Levy’s “A Comprehensive History of The Jews of Iran” (Mazda Publishers, 1999), describes how the unprecedented tolerance and prosperity Jews and other religious minorities in Iran experienced during the Pahlavi dynasty were lost after the revolution.
Although the majority of Iranian Americans have prospered in the United States since they continue to harbor ill will over their losses. Abraham Berookhim, a resident of Santa Monica, is one of many local Iranian Jews who said he holds Carter personally accountable for his family’s devastation; Iran’s radical Islamic regime confiscated not only his family’s multimillion dollar hotel in Tehran, but also executed his uncle in 1980 as a “Zionist spy.”
“In my opinion, Carter is the worst human being in the world,” Berookhim said. “Carter saw how cruel Khomeini was to the people of Iran who were being killed for no reason, and he did nothing.”
Delshad and other local Iranian Jews also say Carter fostered the atmosphere of hatred and discrimination they encountered after Americans in the U.S. Embassy in Iran were taken hostage by the Iranian regime in 1979.
“It was very hostile time for Persians living here. Everywhere I went, I was picked on,” Delshad said. “I started wearing American flags on my lapel all the time to show that I was an American and to let people who met me [know] not to include me as part of those hostage-takers in Iran”.
Nevertheless, a few Iranian Jewish leaders applaud Carter’s immigration polices.
“Iranian Jews also remember the gentle side of President Carter’s administration, which opened the doors to the migration of a large segment of our community to the United States,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.
Others point out that that Carter is not the only one responsible for the ongoing situation in Iran. H. David Nahai, an Iranian Jewish attorney and president of Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power, said “We should also not forget that while the revolution took place during Carter, it became entrenched during Republican administrations.”
Yet dislike for Carter is not limited to Iranian Jews alone, countless Iranians of other faiths said they also have ill feelings for the former president.
“I believe that there is no hope for Carter’s redemption in Iranian history,” said Assadollah Morovati, the Iranian Muslim owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills. “He has already done immense damage to our culture, our lives, and our reputation in the world by helping to bring the current regime to power and he will never be forgiven by all Iranians”.
Today as the Iran’s strength and influences increase in the Middle East, scholars looking back on the regime’s rise to power cannot help but trace it to the actions of the Carter Administration.
“The Carter Administration’s role in assisting with the downfall of the Shah is one of America’s great foreign policy disasters of the twentieth century,” stated Dinesh D’Souza, a Stanford University research fellow in an online report published this January. “America doesn’t need more foolish advice from Jimmy Carter, what it needs from him is an apology”.
October 11, 2007 | 3:00 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
It’s surprising to me how both conservative author Ann Coulter and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are getting free publicity these days for talking trash about the Jews! Someone needs to tell these people to back off and take care of their own business. Coulter on Monday night on CNBC told talk show host Donny Deutsch that the “Jews need to be perfected” and dodged Deutsch’s questions about her comments being similar to those of Ahmadinejad. On the same note last week Ahmadinejad told crowds at a rally in Tehran that Israel should be destroyed and the Jews should be sent to Alaska or Canada.
It amazing how foreign dictators including those in the Middle East over the centuries have used the Jews as the perfect scapegoat for turning the attention of the masses away from their own shortcomings. Now I can understand why Ahmadinejad keeps bad mouthing the Jews and calling for Israel to “be wiped off the map”. Aside from the fact that he is loony, he has some serious economic problems in Iran and distracting the masses with crazy talk about Israel being the “little Satan” is an ideal way to keep people’s attention away from the high inflation, double digit unemployment and the gas shortages. However one is left wondering why Coulter now brings up the Jews and the need for them to be converted? Does saying the Jews need to be “perfected” help her sell more books? Does Coulter have some nasty scandal coming up where the Jews are her ideal scapegoat as well? I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that Coulter and Ahmadinejad need to leave the Jews alone and mind their own business! For crying out loud, we Jews don’t even make up one percent of the world’s population and everyone keeps blaming us for everything. We’re tired of being your scapegoats…you all need to blame something else for a change, like global warming or the Internet. Coulter and Ahmadinejad should try to get more publicity in another way rather than bringing us up.
By the way for all of you that don’t speak the Persian language, the word “Ann” in Persian translates to “feces”.
Lastly I thank my right honorable collegue Brad Greenberg for his kind words about my blog. I urge you all to read the transcript of what Coulter said to Deutsch on his blog: The God Blog
October 10, 2007 | 11:18 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
In the past few days I’ve come across various stories from national and international news outlets with headlines blazing that Pope Benedict XVI has “attacked” or “spoken out against” Iran’s growing anti-Semitism. Yet almost every publication and wire service that has been carrying the story lack a single direct quote from the Pope or an official statement from the Vatican with regards to the Pope stepping up criticism on Iran or its president.
To the contrary, most of the stories on the Pope’s supposed opposition to Iran’s anti-Semitism are laced with quotes from officials of the World Jewish Congress that had met with the Pope. These Jewish officials came out of their meetings with the Pope and stated that the Pope said “Iran was an issue of big concern for him”. Specifically Maram Stern, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, said after his meeting with the Pope: “We thanked the Holy Father for everything he did for the Jewish people, and more importantly what he will do”. The lack of direct attribution from the Pope and the Vatican makes me question the validity of this story all together. As a journalist who reads this story, I question whether the Pope is really concerned about anti-Semitism arising from Iran? Or is this another classic example of poor journalism where lazy reporters have failed to follow up and check their facts as well as gotten the proper attribution from the Vatican? What ever happened to telling both sides of the story in a fair and balanced way?
Stories like this that only have one side quoted—in this case the Jews, lead opponents of Israel and anti-Semites to conjure up ridiculous conspiracy stories that the Jews “supposedly control the media”. At the same when there is no attribution from the Pope directly, his opinion which may be newsworthy is never told. Even if the Vatican did not want to make an official statement about the Pope’s stance on this issue, the reporters who covered the story had a responsibility to indicate that. But of course, we have no idea if they did this as their stories lack this information. Undoubtedly Iran’s vast propaganda machine can now easily poke holes in this story by claiming that the Pope has not condemned Iran in any way for anti-Semitism because there are no quotes attributed to him.
Shame on the journalists and shame on the editors who let us down with this story!
Here is just one of the many examples of the poor journalism regarding this issue:
October 9, 2007 | 1:54 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Ashkan Dejagah, a 21-year-old Iranian-born German soccer player’s refusal to play in Israel is perhaps one of the most shameful and ridiculous displays of unsportsmanlike conduct I have seen from anyone of Iranian background. Dejagah who moved to Germany as a child with his family, cited “political reasons” for pulling out of last Friday’s qualification match for the European Under-21 Championship in Tel Aviv. “I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins,” said Dejagah to Berlin’s daily tabloid Bild. “I am doing it out of respect. After all, my parents are Iranian”. Members of Germany’s Jewish community denounced Dejagah’s actions and called for the Herman soccer federation to exclude him from the German national team because of his anti-Israel stance.
As a journalist, it always amazes me how young Iranians worldwide have sometimes bought into the ridiculous anti-Israel hatred spewed by Iran’s government. People like Dejagah with their outrageous actions often make it difficult for other Iranians who are not Jewish to distance themselves from the ideology of Iran’s government. In my opinion it is not only unsportsmanlike for any player to wage a private boycott against a country including Israel, but especially insulting when a player from Germany of all places with its history of anti-Semitism displays this type of behavior! The soccer field and other arenas of sports should not be a place for politics but where people of various backgrounds come together to unite and have fun. Typically one would expect to see anti-Israel or anti-Semitic behavior from a person who has been raised in Iran where such rhetoric is prevelant in the media. Therefore to see this shameful behavior come from a person like Dejagah who left Iran at a young age is particularly disturbing and leaves me wondering where he picked up his hate for Israel.
But Dejagah is not the first Iranian athlete to refused to compete in Israel, in 2004, Vahid Hashemian of the “Bayern Munich” team refused to play a Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. While Hashemian stated that he had a back injury, the Iranian government officially warned him that he would face “consequences” at home in Iran if he traveled to Israel. Likewise during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, an Iranian judo champion refused to fight an Israeli opponent citing that he was too overweight to fight Israel’s Ehud Vaks. The International Judo Federation later concluded that the fighter was not overweight and he was later disqualified. Likewise in 2001 Mahed Malekmohammadi of Iran and a world judo champion refused to compete against Yoel Razvozov of Israel citing “political reasons”.
October 9, 2007 | 12:11 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Mayan Kheset is a group of four or five Iranian Jewish volunteers based in the San Fernando Valley here in Southern California who are trying to change how the local Iranian Jewish community celebrates their weddings and other happy occasions. Four years ago, 37-year old Hirbod Cohentoe, a Woodland Hills pharmacist and the group’s founder said he noticed members of the community spending significant amounts of money on flower arrangements for their weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events. For this reason he organized his group to provide silk flower centerpieces in lieu of real flowers and his group’s fees would all be donated to Jewish charities. “We encourage people to try to support a wedding of an orphan in Israel,” said Cohentoe. “We encourage couples not make their weddings so fancy but to donate some of the money to Israel or their favorite Jewish charity.”
For nearly four years, Mayan Kheset’s volunteers have dropped off and picked up different sets of artificial flowers at parties held in various locations in the Los Angeles area. Cohentoe says he and his few friends sacrifice their weekends and stay up late to pick up the flowers in hopes of creating a new trend of giving charity during times of celebration within the community. During the last few years, a growing number of weddings and other events have grown into large and expensive extravaganzas among L.A.‘s Iranian Jews. Cohentoe said that while his organization does not have a set minimum amount for what people can donate in exchange for using the silk flowers, he would like to see more people volunteering with his group.
Those interested in contacting Mayan Kheset can contact them through their website: http://262626.org/
October 9, 2007 | 12:05 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Tom Lantos, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, made headlines last April when he reiterated his desire to travel to Iran for informal talks with Iranian officials. And yet one month later the Democratic congressman from San Mateo introduced a tough Iran divestment bill with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that the House overwhelmingly passed last week.
The seemingly contradictory approach in dealing with Iran’s regime has many in the local Jewish and Iranian American communities scratching their heads. But Lantos says the approach is consistent because his proposed restrictions and sanctions may discourage the Iranian regime from pursuing its nuclear weapons program.
“I am an unqualified proponent of dialogue that has nothing to do with the nature of my legislation,” Lantos told The Journal. “I go to countries which we have very bad relations or no relations with whatsoever, because my purpose is to put things on a diplomatic track and hopefully improve relations. Iran is no exception.”
Lantos pointed to his past efforts in opening lines of communications through meetings with officials in Libya, North Korea and the former Soviet Union as proof of his ability to make diplomatic progress.
“In the 1980s I took delegations from Congress to the Soviet Union when that was not the popular thing to do,” Lantos said. “It didn’t prevent me from going to the Soviet Union and talking to them when they had nuclear weapons pointed at us.”
In 1998, Lantos was unsuccessful in his request for a meeting with Mohammad Khatami after the “moderate” Iranian president called for an exchange of writers, scholars and artists between the United States and Iran. Lantos last visited the country in 1978 as a San Francisco State University economics professor.
Lantos, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, would not discuss whether he would address statements of Holocaust denial made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he were to travel to Tehran. Still, local Jewish leaders said a possible journey to Iran by Lantos could make a significant symbolic statement.
“The regime is officially at war with the memory of the Shoah, and Congressman Lantos’ mere presence exposes the big lie without even saying a word,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who also serves on the House Foreign Relations committee, said such a visit could improve U.S. chances of winning international support for American policies toward Iran.
“What greater proof that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and liar than to be confronted by Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor,” Sherman said. “Lantos’ position is that the discussions with the Iranians are not a special gift to them, but rather would improve our image in the world and help us mobilize the world against the Iranian program.”
Local Jewish leaders also said they were confident that Lantos would be one of the best U.S. officials to deal with Iran based on his longstanding record during his tenure in Congress.
“He is aggressive and out front to stand up for human rights, to stand up for Israel and stand against anti-Semitism without any apologies,” Cooper said. “At the same time he would be able to leverage his position to see if there is a way to mitigate those flash points through personal involvement in the issues.”
White House officials declined to comment on Lantos’ legislation, which passed the House on Sept. 25 in a 397-16 vote; the bill’s companion in the Senate is stalled and likely won’t be considered this year.
Some Middle East experts said they were skeptical of Lantos’ past diplomatic efforts in the region, as countries like Libya have not improved human rights conditions.
“The more Lantos has traveled to Tripoli, the more Qadhafi has cracked down on dissidents and dissent,” said Michael Rubin, a resident Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. “Take the case of Fathi El-Jahmi, Libya’s leading peaceful secular dissident. He was put in prison after Lantos’ first trip and his visitation and medical care have been stripped with each passing Lantos visit.”
Southern California Iranian Jewish leaders said that while Lantos has been a close friend to the community and he has sought their advice on issues of Iran, his proposed visit to Iran might not yield any diplomatic breakthroughs.
“I don’t believe talking with the Islamic Republic would yield much benefit to the United States. Instead, it could disenfranchise the people of Iran who consider the United States to be their allies,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation. “It will allow the Islamic Republic more time to continue with its nuclear weapons program.”
Several Iran experts said that while Lantos and other politicians have good intentions to resolve problems with the Iranian regime through dialogue, such strategies carried out by European leaders between 2000 and 2005 have proven to be unfruitful.
“Dialogue turned out to be a sham,” said Rubin, a longtime scholar of Iran’s regime. “Rather than embrace the West, we now know that the Iranian government invested 70 percent of its hard currency windfall into its covert [nuclear] programs.”
Calls made to the Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations were not returned.
Other Iran experts said that if Lantos were to travel to Iran on a diplomatic mission, he would have some success persuading moderate Iranian officials.
“It would be particularly useful if Mr. Lantos could meet with the more reform-minded members of parliament, in order to show that he is not proposing some deal with the regime which sells out the democratic cause,” said Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the bipartisan Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington D.C.