Posted by Karmel Melamed
On November 10th more a dozen Southern California based Persian language news media outlets owned by Iranian Muslims gathered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles for the launching of a newly translated Persian language version of the book “Night” by Nobel Prize winning Jewish author Elie Wiesel.
His famous memoir that describes his imprisonment in several concentration camps during the Holocaust was translated and published under the auspices of the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish organization Graduate Society Foundation. The group published the book in Persian an effort to combat Holocaust denial campaign put out by Iran’s current fundamentalist Islamic regime.
“These days where the Iranian government is the only one in the world that has “Holocaust denial” as their stated official policy, it is significant that such a book is being presented for the Persian speaking world to read and understand first hand the truth about the horrors of Holocaust,’ said George Haroonian, a local Iranian activist involved with the event.
Timing for the release of the Persian language translation of “Night” was also significant as it was on the day after the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the first state-sponsored pogrom by the Nazis against Jews in Europe. Since 2004 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian government officials have launched an international propaganda war denying the Holocaust in an efforts to discredit the existence for the State of Israel.
During the past few years the Wiesenthal Center, with the help of local Iranian Jews, has been outreaching to Southern California based Iranian Muslim news media that broadcast programming into Iran via satellite in order to response to the Iranian governments’ continued attacks on the reality of the Holocaust.
“The vast majority of Iran’s population is under 30 years old and they lack the knowledge to counter the state’s campaign to deny the Nazi Genocide against the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. “As the regime in Tehran continues to threaten Israel it is vital that the citizens of that country are armed with the truth.” Last year the center provided “10 facts about the Holocaust” in Persian language on their website for Iranian visitors and in 2006 welcomed members of the local Iranian media to tour the Museum of Tolerance in order to educate them about the Holocaust.
Kudos to the Wiesenthal Center for collaborating with local Iranian Jews to bring to light the anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial propaganda put out by Iran’s government.
Over the past three years I have covered a number of events where the Wiesenthal Center has reached out to local Iranian (non-Jews) and their media outlets to educate Persian language speakers about the real horrors of the Holocaust.
Perhaps the best explanation for the Iranian government’s decision to attack the validity of the Holocaust was made by Yigal Carmon, president of the Washington, D.C., Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates anti-Semitic and anti-American media reports from various Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran. In many of his speeches Carmon explains that Iran’s Holocaust revisionism is based on their ultimate goal to delegitimize Israel’s existence. For the Iranian regime’s officials the Holocaust lends moral justification to the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel. Now if the Iranian government could only deny the Holocaust and prove it was a mere “Jewish fabrication”, then they could more easily justify to their desires to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel.
The Iranian government’s organized propaganda war on the validity of the Holocaust has in some areas of the world backfired as INTELLIGENT and logical people have come to realize the true absurdity of the current leaders of Iran. Yet some in the Islamic world and elsewhere who are not familiar with the truth about the Shoah are being influenced by the Iranian government’s propaganda machine which broadcasts television programs in different languages and publishes articles in different languages to carry their message of hate to the four corners of the world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi government’s propaganda minister would be quite proud of the current Iranian government’s media tactics in attacking the Jews and the Nazi atrocities!
Those working at the Wiesenthal Center said translations of “Night” will also be made available on their multi-lingual website “AskMusa.org”, which allows Muslims to learn about and ask questions via the internet from experts about Judaism and Jewish culture.
My article last year about the roots of Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial statements can be read here.
My 2006 article about Iranian Jews and Muslims joining together in Beverly Hills to acknowledge the tragedy of the Holocaust can be found here.
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November 11, 2008 | 12:23 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Nearly 200 young local Iranian Jews from the “30 Years After” organization gathered at the Parlor sports bar in Santa Monica on November 4th to mingle and watch the results of the 2008 Presidential election. While a substantial segment of Southern California Iranian Jews were supporting Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, some younger members of the community backed Democratic nominee Barack Obama and this was evident during some cheering that occurred at the announcement of Obama’s victory during the night’s television newscasts. Those in attendance enjoyed drinks while talking politics and the direction of the new Obama administration visa vie Iran and Israel.
During the past year many L.A. area Jews and non-Jews have asked me why Iranian Jews were so vehemently opposed to Obama—but this assessment is not accurate. For the most part, through my reporting I found that a large segment of L.A.‘s Iranian Jews were turned off by Obama’s calls for direct negotiations with Iran’s current radical Islamic regime without any pre-conditions. As a result many backed McCain who encouraged a tougher stance on the Iranian government. Nevertheless there were and still are many younger Iranian Jews who support Obama because of his stances on a whole host of domestic issues—including the economy. While there was no massive jubilation at the election watch party for Obama, young Iranian Jews in attendance were upbeat that the new president-elect would maintain strong ties with Israel and closer alliances with his Jewish advisers.
During the past year, “30 Years After” board members have organized various events to increase Iranian Jewish participation and education in the political process and said they were pleased with the turnout at their election night event. “Regardless of one’s political affiliation, no one can deny that this election represents a historic moment for our country and reminds us that our democracy is our most treasured asset,” said Jon Yagoubzadeh, a 30 Years After board member. “By hosting an Election Watch event, we wanted to provide our community the opportunity to witness this moment together and to discuss the outcome of the election”. Other 30 Years After organizers said they were planning post-election informational seminars on the expected directions and policies of the new Obama administration. Again I applaud their efforts in trying to mobilize the local Iranian Jewish community which has traditionally stayed away from politics as Iranian Jews were prohibited from being politically active in Iran for centuries. Who knows, may be one day soon we may even have Iranian Jews running for state and congressional offices?
Here are some sights I captured from 30 Years After election watch event…
November 2, 2008 | 1:15 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On October 19, 2008 I was witness to a incredible event in Iranian Jewish history which brought a warm feeling to my heart. After 110 years Iranian Jews (living in Los Angeles) finally and properly showed their appreciation to the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), a French Jewish educational organization, that had literally been the salvation of Iran’s Jews during the 20th century and led to their success today. The event was nothing short of beautiful and emotional for those in the local Iranian Jewish community who understand the historical importance and impact the AIU has had their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Nearly 350 Iranian Jewish members of the newly formed “Friends of Alliance Israelite in Southern California” a non-profit organization, gathered that day at the private residence of Jacqueline and Isaac Moradi in Beverly Hills to raise funds for the AIU’s agricultural school Mikveh Israel in Israel. Between 1898 and 1979, the AIU provided secular and Jewish education to Jews living through out Iran, an effort that indirectly resulted in Iranian Jews gaining wealth and leaving their ghettos. Gity Barkhordar, one of the event’s organizers said ticket sales and fundraising efforts at the event together generated roughly $1 million, which will be donated to Mikveh Israel for their renovation projects. It should be noted that Mikveh Israel was established in 1870 by the AIU on a tract of land southeast of Tel Aviv which he leased from the Sultan of Turkey. Even today, the school is still active in helping new immigrants to Israel to learn Hebrew and about agriculture techniques—interestingly some of these new immigrants are Iranian Jews.
The Friends of Alliance Israelite in Southern California was co-founded by members of the affluent Iranian Jewish Merage family who along with other Iranian American Jews have been enthusiastic about returning the AIU’s generosity toward their community 110 years ago. “There is one simple question; what would have happened to me if my father had not gotten a chance to get at an education at the Alliance?” said David Merage, the event’s co-chair. “I wish I could go back to the founders of Alliance and say thank you”. David Merage said at the event his family’s amazing success story in the U.S. is rooted in the invaluable education his father, Andre received at the AIU’s school in Iran during the last century—the Merages and many other Iranian Jewish families worldwide, in part, credit the AIU for passing onto them the education, values and Jewish ideals that have resulted in their success today. During the past several years members of the Merage family have been active in various Jewish philanthropic efforts in the U.S. as well as development and growth of Israel’s Negev region.
David Merage is one of the many remarkable Iranian American Jews in who through hard work and creativity have achieved the American dream. He was co-founded Chef America Inc., a privately-held national frozen food manufacturer known for inventing and marketing products such as Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets and Croissant Pockets. At the time of its sale in 2002 to Nestlé, the company had reached $750 million in annual sales, employed 1,800 people and was growing at a rate of 15 percent per year, making it one of the fastest growing food companies in the world. Nestlé acquired Chef America for $2.6 billion. Today, David Merage is principal of Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), a Denver-based investment firm, focusing on Wall Street and real estate investments. More importantly, learning from the AIU’s generousity to his family, David Merage is a philanthropist who actively leads two non-profits that focus on early childhood education, the arts and community, Jewish life in America and worldwide. In 2005, David’s brother Paul Merage (also a co-founder of Chef America) donated $30 million to the School of Business at UC Irvine, which was renamed the Paul Merage School of Business in his honor and has also given funds to the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County. David’s mother, Katherine Merage has been key in organizing the efforts of The Friends of Alliance Israelite in Southern California as well as donating to a whole host of other philinthropic efforts in L.A.‘s Iranian Jewish community.
Also at hand for the event was French Jewish philanthropist Hubert Leven, whose great-grandfather, Narcisse, helped establish with six other French Jews, AIU schools throughout Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East for Sephardic Jews. I spoke with Leven at the event and he said he was surprised at the positive ripple effect his great-grandfather’s generousity had had on Iran’s Jews. Last year I interviewed Leven about his family’s ties with the AIU and his own Jewish non-profit’s efforts in Israel which can be found here.
What was truly remarkable to me was the breath-taking setting of the fundraising event at the mansion in the heights on Beverly Hills. The location was far different from the rundown ghettos of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd where Iranian Jews once lived during the last century. The Moradis’ fabulous home was truly a testimate to the important impact the AIU has had on Iranian Jewry and how education can offer any person or community new opportunities to live better lives. The AIU fundraiser event several weeks ago also represented the ideal set by the Torah that teaches that each Jew is responsible for his fellow Jew. No doubt now that Iranian American Jews have benefited from the education their parents and grandparents enjoyed, they too are now returning that favor and giving AIU students in Israel that same gift.
In addition, David Suissa, the Jewish Journal’s columnist was speaking and yes even singing at the AIU fundraiser! A video message of support was also played from Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz who is a prominent Iranian Jewish politician. Those interested in reading more about the efforts of the AIU on behalf of Iran’s Jews during the last century can read my interview here with Elias Eshaghian, an AIU school director in Iran.
The following are some sights from the fundraiser which I captured…