Jewish Journal

Nikbakht explains why Iranian Jews are not crazy about Obama

by Karmel Melamed

May 5, 2008 | 4:57 pm


My article this week in the L.A. Jewish Journal focuses on the lack of enthusiasm among Iranian Jews for Democratic Presidential candidate Barak Obama. From what I’ve gathered from local Iranian Jews, they are turned off by Obama’s desire to diplomatically engage Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime.

The majority of Southern California’s Iranian Jews escaped Iran with little if nothing of their livelihoods nearly 30 years ago after Iran’s radical clerics took over their former homeland. So they view any diplomatic dialogue with the regime as a reward to Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic leaders who not only ruined their lives but have repeatedly called for the annihilation of Israel. Likewise many Iranian Americans and not just the Iranian Jews, blame former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for not supporting the pro-American Shah of Iran and indirectly allowing the Ayatollahs to come to power in Iran. Hence Obama’s decision to have a foreign policy team including Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carter adviser Robert O. Malley also works against him among Iranian Jews.

During my interviews with various local Iranian Jewish activists, I found the insights of Frank Nikbakht with regards to Iranian Jewish views of Obama to be fascinating. Nikbakht, who also heads the L.A.-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran”, spoke candidly to be about the topic and the following is an excerpt of my interview with him:


Can you identify what segment if any within our community would vote for Senator Obama if he won the Democratic nomination and why?

I don’t know anybody from our community who supports Obama. I imagine that a few intellectual types within the Iranian Jewish community would vote for him, as they would support any other populist.

From your assessment and interactions with local Iranian Jews, to what extent has Senator Obama’s calls for diplomatic engagement of Iran worked against him among local Iranian Jews?

Obama begins with the false assumption that American officials, Europeans and others have not been talking to the Iranian regime officials. This assumption is wrong and many contacts with the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) are known and have been reported. In addition to actual supporters of the IRI in the U.S. and Europe, international IRI opponents have also been talking to them all along. Obama’s propaganda does not really mean that the U.S. should talk to the Iranian regime officials, but that the U.S. should drop any demand which is not palatable to the Mullahs. Obama’s real problem is that he tries to portray the IRI as a normal regime.

Obama and his supporters say that having direct negotiations with Iran will open the way for tougher sanctions on Iran and give the U.S. more diplomatic clout if the mullahs do not agree to end their nuclear weapons development. How do you respond their argument?

The European experience in appeasing the IRI has proven this theory to be wrong!

Obama has criticized Hillary Clinton for voting in favor of a bill classifying the Iranian “Quds Force” as a terrorist organization, claiming the bill could enable President Bush to launch military action against Iran. He stated that he would have voted against the bill if he had not been in New Hampshire campaigning. In your opinion, is this criticism by Obama fair?

Obama’s portrayal of the Islamic Republic of Iran as an ordinary regime, would naturally lead him to think of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps which according to the IRI constitution is tasked with the Global Islamic takeover, as just another “national” army. This kind of thinking or pretense, is extremely dangerous.

In your opinion does the fact that Obamas middle name is Hussein work against him when it comes to votes from the Iranian Jewish community?

The vast majotity of Iranian American Muslims, as most other U.S. Muslims, support Obama BECAUSE of his middle name. In the 2000 elections, many Iranian Muslims here advocated strongly for George Bush, because of his opponent’s last name, Lieberman while the Democratic ticket was almost boycotted because of it. Hussein is a very normal name in the Middle East, a name carried by many of our good friends and associates would not matter to us under any normal circumstance. However, it matters at this historical juncture when there is a global war against Islamic extremists and when this name is going to be carried by the President of the United States. The Muslim family background of Obama, reminds the Iranian Jews of the humiliation and persecution they suffered under the Iranian Islamic regime, which was the main reason why they emigrated to America in the first place. In Farsi we have a proverb saying “one who has been bitten by a snake, is even scared of a harmless rope”.


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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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