Jewish Journal

Christian-Jewish group offers Iranian Jews cash for aliyah to Israel

by Karmel Melamed

October 22, 2007 | 10:20 am

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, (IFCJ), a Chicago-based charity group is promising $10,000 to nearly 20,000 Jews living in Iran to immigrate to Israel. The non-profit currently provides millions of dollars in donations from evangelical Christians to Israel every year and its leaders have said they are seeking to get Iran’s Jews out of the country for fear of the danger they face while living in Iran. “Is this not similar to the situation in Nazi Germany in the late ‘30s, where they (Jews) also felt they could weather the storm?”, said IFCJ head Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in a recent AP interview. “Instead, six million were killed in the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad has called a “myth”.

Eckstein said his group has raised nearly $1.4 million for this project. They have increased the amount of money offered to Iranian Jews who immigrate to Israel from $5,000 to $10,000 because since the beginning of the year the group has only been able to entice 82 Jews out of Iran. What’s interesting about the IFCJ is that they have well known infomercials that regularly run on American television networks appealing to evangelical Christians to donate to their efforts to bring out Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Today they are using Radio Israel broadcasted in Persian language into Iran to spread their $10,000 offer to the country’s Jews.

On a regular basis I have many non-Iranian Jews ask me why Iran’s Jews do not leave the country. Iranian Jews who regularly travel between Iran and the U.S. have informed me that the Jews do not want to leave Iran for two primary reasons. They are either too wealthy and do not want to give up their easy living or uneducated and without any skills available to them to earn a decent living if they leave the country. However, the best response to why Iran’s Jews do not leave the country was given to me in my L.A. Jewish Journal article earlier this year:

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said a substantial number of Jews have stayed in Iran because they feel they will face economic and cultural challenges if they leave the country.

“Some successful and resourceful Jews [in Iran] have either a false sense of security or are willing to take risks, hoping to outlast the regime,” said Nikbakht, “while some have converted to Islam or other ‘safer’ religions such as Christianity to help them survive.”

While that the IFCJ may be doing is a noble cause because the Jews of Iran live in potential danger from the regime that might turn on them, their efforts in this instance may also indirectly be feeding into the hands of the Iranian government. The regime in Tehran loves to use stories about offers to lure the Jews out of Iran because it gives them a chance to spread their propaganda about how “peace loving” and “tolerant” Iran since non of its Jews want to leave the country. I do know that since the 1980’s there have been quiet and successful efforts by various Jewish groups in the U.S. to help slowly bring out Jews living in Iran. But again these groups have accomplished this work without the media spotlight, so as not to create a public relations fiasco for the Iranian government. The Iranian regime clearly does not want to get rid of their Jewish population because they can use them for both propaganda purposes and as potential hostages if Israel were to attack their country. The regime’s radical Islamic leaders know that the best way to scare off the Jews in Iran is to begin executing them or randomly taking away their assets—and this is exactly what they successfully accomplished in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These actions caused a mass exodus of Jews to flee Iran for Israel, Europe and the U.S., as a result the regime was able to cash in on millions of dollars worth of Jewish assets left behind.

Historically, we must not forget that the Jews have lived for more than 2,000 years in Iran dating back to the times of Cyrus the Great. For centuries they set roots in Iran and remained there despite facing mass conversions and constant harassment by the Muslim majority. So for this reason it might be difficult to break these ancient ties overnight.

On a final note, this story about inciting the Jews to leave Iran reminds me of a popular street slogan spread in Iran during the 1979 Revolution. An Iranian Muslim gentleman recently shared it with me; “When the Ayatollah (Khomeini) arrives, first we will banish all of the Armenians back to Russia, then we will take money away from the Jews and finally we will execute all the Bahia’s!”

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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