Posted by Karmel Melamed
Ben Hur Sepher is one of the Iranian Jewish community’s rare filmmakers who has made a name for himself in Iran and the United States for writing, directing and producing provacative films. His occupation as a filmmaker is indeed unique in the Iranian Jewish community because individuals who pursued careers in the arts or entertainment in Iran were typically not looked highly upon or even respected. Nevertheless Sepher was trained in his craft at the Swedish Film Institute and began his career at the Stockholm State Theatre as a protégée to renown film director Ingmar Bergman. Sepher went on to direct films and plays in Iran and was the personal filmmaker to the late Shah of Iran— shooting the Shah’s private meeting and gatherings. Since immigrating to the U.S. three decades ago, he has gone on to direct a whole host of television programs and short films in Hollywood.
I recently had a chance to view his truly amazing new film “The Desperate” that was released just a few months ago. The film deals with an imprisoned and eminent Jewish surgeon in a concentration camp during World War II who is conscripted at gunpoint to perform emergency surgery on the son of a fearsome Nazi general. The subject matter of the film dealing with the Holocaust, which in this case is coming from a filmmaker of Iranian descent speaks volumes in light of Iran’s current president denying the existance of the Holocaust. Interestingly, the film since its release has received rave reviews from critics and community members with its remarkable message about humanity.
The following is my brief interview with Sepher about his new film “The Desperate” and his career in the industry….
Here is a clip from “The Desperate”....
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January 19, 2010 | 12:16 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
With shofars blasting and flags in hand, yesterday nearly 120 Los Angeles area supporters of Israel— including local Iranian Jews and even non-Jews alike weathered the pouring rain by aligning Wilshire Boulevard near the corner of Veteran Street in Westwood to counter-demonstrate against “L.A. Jews for Peace” a local pro-Palestinian group accusing Israel of supposed war crimes.
The counter-demonstration was organized by the L.A.-based StandWithUs.com group that brought together American Jews and non-Jews as well as large contingency of local Iranian Jews to publicly support Israel. The Standwithus demonstrators held hands and sang the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah” as dozens of cars passing by honked their horns in support of them. The counter-demonstration was indeed unique for me to witness as a journalist as you wouldn’t expect to see so many proud supporters of any political cause—let alone for Israel willing to stand in the pouring rain for a such a long time to make a loud statement on behalf of the State of Israel. The message of the StandWithUs demonstrators was clear; “Israel fully pulled out of Gaza several years ago and in the return they received NO PEACE but rather got daily rocket attacks from the terrorist group Hamas that controls Gaza!”. As a soverign peace loving nation, America, Israel, Mexico—or another nation-state on this planet has a right to protect it’s citizens from attacks and this is exactly what Israel has been doing when it comes to Hamas rocket attacks on Southern Israel. Kudos to StandWithUs for their moral courage in organizing this event and bringing together various individuals of different background to back the Jewish people’s right to live freely in their own homeland of Israel without terrorism and rocket attacks.
I had a chance to chat with a number of L.A. area Iranian Jews who were among the demonstrators and proud supporters of Israel. Here is a brief video interview I had with one Iranian American Jewish activist Mark Haloosim…
Here’s some interesting video footage of the demonstrators blasting their shofars in support of Israel….
Just some photos I captured from the counter-demonstration…
January 13, 2010 | 11:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Yesterday Southern California’s Iranian American Jewish community was shocked to learn that on January 8th, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil law suit against popular Iranian Jewish radio talk show host and financial advisor, John Farahi. The suit alleges Farahi and his Beverly Hills firm, NewPoint Financial Services Inc., defrauded Iranian-American investors of millions of dollars and that Farahi, his company, his wife Gissou and the firm’s controller, Elaheh Amouei, misled investors by falsely telling them their funds were being invested in low-risk unsecured corporate bonds, FDIC insured certificates of deposit, government bonds and corporate bonds issued by companies backed by funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In reality, the complaint alleges, the investors’ money were transferred into personal accounts controlled by Farahi and his wife to fund construction of their multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills and in risky option futures trading in the stock market that resulted in more than $18 million in losses for investors.
The SEC’s suit also claims that since 2003, Farahi used his radio program, “The Economy Today” featured on the Studio City-based Persian language radio station Radio Iran KIRN 670 AM to target members of L.A.’s Iranian American community, recommending they make appointments at his firm. “They lured victims with false promises of investment safety while secretly enriching themselves and diverting investor funds for their personal use,” stated Rosalind R. Tyson, Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional office in a statement.
In conjunction with the suit, the SEC has obtained an order temporarily freezing the Farahis’ and NewPoint’s assets until the government can investigate the case further. A hearing on the Farahis case is scheduled for January 15th in U.S. Federal court in downtown L.A.
I have met Farahi in the past as a journalist covering a number of local Iranian Jewish events in which he participated in as the master of ceremonies. I found many community members were typically impressed by his charisma as well as his ability to communicate. Farahi and his wife were typically rubbing elbows with socialites in the community and involved in a number of philanthropic Jewish events— and even donating themselves to such causes. His wife, Gissou, was a former executive board member of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and I can recall her being responsible for organizing a few Israel related fundraising events at the IAJF’s synagogue, Temple Beth El in West Hollywood roughly three to four years ago. This reputation the Farahis created in the community as well as his persona as a talk show host with “knowledge of American finances and investments” on KIRN, quickly won the couple friends among local Iranian Americans of various religions. All the reason why community members are now horrified to learn of this civil lawsuit brought by the SEC against this couple. Aside from the legal and financial ramifications of this case for the Farahis, this case will undoubtedly damage their high profile reputation in the local Iranian Jewish community which is so tight-knit.
In addition, this current alleged investment fraud case involving an Iranian Jewish businessman comes nearly a year after a similar case of supposed investor fraud involving Ezri Namvar, a Los Angeles area Iranian Jewish businessman came to light. Namvar was forced into involuntary bankruptcy by his Iranian Jewish creditors who accused him of losing as much as $400 million in funds they loaned him. Many local Iranian Jewish community leaders have privately informed me that both of these incidents have been a source of tremendous shame and pain for them as they are upstanding citizens. “How are we supposed to work in this city and maintain our own reputations when these types of people from our own community are involved in such blatant crimes!” said one L.A. Iranian Jewish activist, who asked that he not be named out his fear of being ostracized by his friends and family members. (We won’t get into the Madoff case, but Madoff’s name is also raised many times in community conversations relating to Namvar).
On a side note, it’s interesting to see how the SEC’s investigators have connected Farahi’s comments on his radio program to this case of alleged investment fraud considering how KIRN is a very influential radio station in Southern California’s Iranian American community. For one thing, KIRN is the ONLY 24-hour Persian language radio station in the free world on the AM dial that can be picked up by almost any radio and on the internet. Hence a significant number of local middle-aged to older community members who may not enjoy or understand English language television or radio programming, tune in daily to KIRN and rely on it for their information. I’ve appeared on the station’s bilingual youth program many times and have always been surprised at how many local Iranians of various ages actually listen to the station/ So it’s no surprise that Farahi’s daily show on this radio station may have either indeed directly or indirectly influenced people to seek his financial investment services.
Finally, this current scandal brings up one very ironic conversation I witnessed a few years ago outside the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills between Farahi and another Iranian Jewish gentleman right after the sex scandal story regarding former Israeli President Moshe Katsav broke. I remember Farahi fervently arguing with this other gentleman about the “shame” Katsav brought upon the larger Iranian Jewish community worldwide as a result of Katsav’s alleged rape of a woman and how the community should not support Katsav any longer. Thereafter Farahi promptly got into his new Rolls Royce, slammed the door and drove off. It’s painfully ironic how Farahi may now be facing the same criticism he dished out for Katsav with this current case.
The SEC’s complaint against the Farahis, their firm and Elaheh Amouei can be found here
January 5, 2010 | 11:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Late last month former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a letter through the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) “apologizing” to American Jews for all that he has said about Israel that has offended American Jewry. When I first read about this supposed apology by Carter, I could not stop laughing because for the last 30 years he has been an almost ridiculously blatant mouthpiece for the Arab world and an apologist for Palestinian terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. His apology seemed completely bogus and not genuine since it was mere rhetoric and not backed up with real actions. If Carter really wants to make amends for his hateful speeches and propaganda attacks against Israel, why doesn’t he pull from stores all copies of his recent book of lies about Israel being a supposed apartheid state? If his apology is genuine towards the American Jewish community, why doesn’t he return the billions of dollars he receives from the Saudi royal family given to his Carter Center? If he is truly sincere about apologizing to American Jews, why doesn’t he condemn Arab terrorist groups for their terror attacks and help undo his efforts in legitimizing terror groups like Hamas that want to destroy Israel? Why doesn’t he condemn the Iranian president’s calls to “wipe Israel off the map of world”?
While Abe Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director accepted Carter’s apologize, I for one do not. Instead of merely releasing a letter of apology to the American Jewish community through a news agency, if Carter is serious about renewing ties with Jews, why doesn’t he apology in person to the thousands of victims and victims’ families of Palestinian terrorism in Israel first? Carter has spent more time visiting terrorists in Hamas controlled Gaza and Yasser Arafat, a murderer of innocent men, women and children, than Israelis who have been bombarded with hand-man rockets launched from Gaza into Southern Israeli cities! If Carter is genuine about apologizing to American Jews why doesn’t he donate the billions of dollars his center has received from the Arab world to treat and care for Jewish victims of Hamas terrorism in Israel? Why doesn’t Carter apology in person to Jewish victims of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism for his visiting of leaders in terror sponsoring states like Syria and giving them legitimacy? Why doesn’t Carter condemn the endless violence and rockets launched by Hamas into Southern Israel if he is really remorseful for what he’s said about Israel? The list of things Carter could do to truly demonstrate his remorse for things he has said about the Jewish state of Israel is endless. Unfortunately he will never do any of these things because he is a disgraceful lap dog of the Arab world and only cares to satisfy their desires to attack Israel since they bankroll his center.
Clearly Carter does not give a damn about making amends with Israel, American Jewry or those in the free world who are fighting against radical Islam in the Middle East. His release of this “letter of apology” is merely a political move on behalf of his grandson who is running for a political office in a district within Georgia that has a majority of Jews. Carter is trying to throw a bone to his grandson, who for better or worse is stuck with a family name that has been synonymous with a hater of Israel. Apologizing to the Jews for anything he’s said about Israel serves Carter no other purpose than to help his grandson. No one will give him any kind of financial support for his “empty apology to the Jews”. I know nothing about his grandson nor his grandson’s stances on Middle East issues, but I do know that Carter from his shameful behavior, language and actions has not been a friend to Jews nor Israel during the last 30 years. Words are merely words— I’ll believe Carter is indeed genuine about making friends with Israel and Jews in general when I see his behavior matches his words!
On a side note, Iranian Americans of various religions don’t care for Carter either and those interested in learning more about their disgust for this shameful man can read my 2007 piece about it.
January 4, 2010 | 11:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
With the 42nd California Assembly district having the largest contingency of Iranian Jews in the state and in the country, the district’s Jewish member of assembly, Mike Feuer, has outreached to and found support among many in the local Iranian Jewish community. Feuer, who is running for re-election this year, attended a campaign fundraiser at the home of an Iranian Jewish family last month. Our webcast program caught up with him to discuss new Iran divestment legislation he is proposing to introduce in the state assembly this year and his views on activism regarding the Iranian government.
Here’s my interview with Feuer: