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”.