During this past weekend I was disturbed to come across a shameful opinion article written by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen who was regurgitating the usual lies Jews living in Iran are forced to give Western journalists who visit them because of the Jews fear of what will happen to them if they do not say what Iran’s Islamic regime’s leadership dictate to them. Cohen, who obviously is unaware of the duress under which the Jews of Iran live, recently travelled to Iran and tries to paint a positive yet inaccurate picture of their lives in his piece. I wrote the below letter to the New York Times in response to his ridiculous claims regarding Iran’s Jews, but unfortunately the Times lacked the courage to publish my response. However, through this blog the rest of the world can read my take on Cohen’s false claims:
February 23, 2009
As a journalist who has been exclusively covering Iranian Jewry in U.S. and in Iran for the last 10 years I was utterly shocked at the misrepresentation of the Jews of Iran after reading Roger Cohen’s piece “What Iran’s Jews Say” published in your paper on February 22nd. Unfortunately Mr. Cohen, has fallen for the long running façade the Iranian regime has put out in the Western media with regards to their treatment of religious minorities living in Iran. As an Iranian Jewish journalist who has more first hand knowledge about Iranian Jewry and had a family member executed by the Iranian regime in 1980, I feel compelled to set the record straight.
In his piece, Mr. Cohen tries to paint a rosy picture for the lives of some 20,000 Jews living in Iran after 30 years following the Iranian revolution. He claims Jews live in peace and freedom while members of Iran’s regime are benevolent toward the country’s Jews. Yet as a journalist who speaks the Persian language fluently and regularly chats with Jews and non-Jewish Iranians who have fled the country, I can tell you Mr. Cohen’s claims are nothing more than fantasies. The truth of the matter is that since 1979, Iran’s government has used the presence of Jews living in that country as a major propaganda tool to supposedly show themselves in a positive light to the West. Sadly, Mr. Cohen’s most naive ideas and assertions about Iran’s Jews are based on his foolish beliefs in the supposed “facts” or the “positive” statements made by the Jewish community and Jewish leaders in Iran about their lives in the country. Mr. Cohen cites a quote from Maurice Motamed, the former Jewish member of Iran’s Parliament to show that Iran’s Jew have “fair representation” in Iran’s government. Yet what Mr. Cohen and the mainstream Western media do not realize are that comments made by any Jewish leaders in Iran to the Western media lack any credibility since these leaders have been hand picked by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to parrot what the regime tells them to say. Whenever any journalist goes to Iran to talk to the Jews, they are handed over to specific Jews or Jewish leaders who are living under duress and have been given a “script” to memorize from— just as was the case with the Jews featured in the Nazi film at Theresienstadt during World War II. Let’s not be naive, Iran’s Jews are not free to stay whatever they truely feel about their regime because they know the dire consequences that await them if they do speak out. What is even more outrageous about Iran’s propaganda machine is that the regime does not grant visas to journalists it deems unsympathetic to their government. So the Iranian officials have pretty much had free reign in spewing their one-sided message regarding Iranian Jews that is in no way objective. Mr. Cohen seems to fit that category very well from what he’s written in his opinion piece. In essence how can any statements regarding Iran’s Jews coming from those so closely aligned with Iran’s regime be trusted? They clearly cannot.
Moreover, what Jews in Iran say about their living conditions cannot be given any credence because the Iranian regime’s thugs keep a tight grip on the Jewish community in Iran who live in constant fear for their lives. If the Jews step out of line in Iran their lives are at immediate risk. Such was the case in 2000 when 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were randomly arrested on trumped up charges of being supposed spies for Israel and the U.S. The penalty for treason or most other crimes by any person especially a non-Muslim in Iran is death. The intense pressure from the U.S. and Europe on Iran during the case of the Shiraz 13 ultimately forced the regime not to execute the Jews. Now if Mr. Cohen is reluctant to believe me, I suggest he speak to the scores of new Iranian Jewish immigrants who have recently resettled in Los Angeles and ask them about life in Iran. Or perhaps he should chat with the hundreds of Iranian Jewish families who fled Iran and are still waiting in Austria for their visas to the U.S. and ask them how life was really like for them in Iran. I seriously doubt Mr. Cohen or anyone else would find a single person who would praise the conditions of living for Jews in Iran. While Jews or other minorities reside in Iran, every single day they have fear of what calamities may befall them, so they praise the regime and therefore their statements are also tainted and inaccurate.
In addition, Mr. Cohen fails to take into account that before the 1979 revolution, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran as compared to the 20,000 who have remained there today. The mass exodus of Jews in the late 1970’s and 1980s would be enough proof to anyone that Iran must obviously not be a welcoming place for Jews if 60,000 of them have fled the country. Mr. Cohen likewise fails to take into account the millions of dollars in assets and property that Iranian’s current government confiscated from Jews during and after the 1979 revolution. Is that Cohen’s idea of supposed tranquility and fair treatment of the Jews by the current regime? If the Jews and religious minorities live in such supposed “freedom” in Iran, then why does the Iranian Constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims? Why do Iran’s laws require that all non-Muslims be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantages over Muslims? According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, director of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran—based in Los Angeles, since 1979 at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, at least two Jews died in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. The status of Jews and other religious minorities are as second class citizens today in Iran according to the radical Shiite laws set forth by Iran’s clerics. Contrary to Mr. Cohen’s assertions, there is nothing “tranquil” about their lives. Sadly, the Jews that have remained in Iran today unfortunately believe they can outlast the regime and they can endure their second class status despite the lack of true freedom in Iran.
As a journalist who has close ties to the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles and New York, I am reminded by countless Iranian American Jewish leaders to “watch what I might be writing about the Iranian government” because of their fear that what I may report on may ultimately have negative repercussions on the Jews still living in Iran. So why on earth are Iranian American Jews so concerned about my articles and the safety of their brethren in Iran if everything is supposedly so fine and dandy for Jews in Iran? What’s real sad about Mr. Cohen and other apologists of Iran’s regime is that they have no other way to bolster the Iranian government than to point to the supposed “fine” condition of Jews in the country. The fact of the matter is that Iran’s economy is in shambles, there are gasoline and food shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and doubt-digit unemployment. The rogue regime is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening its neighbors with annihilation. How else could anyone justify keeping any government in power with such disastrous conditions? As usual they can use the Jews as the perfect distraction and Mr. Cohen has done a fine job of helping them to do that.