Mayor Jimmy Delshad is not the only Iranian Jew working in the city of Beverly Hills these days. Recently two others from the local Iranian Jewish community were appointed to serve as city commissioners. Earlier this month the Beverly Hills City Council appointed businessman and activist Joe Shooshani to the Public Works Commission and psychologist Sharona R. Nazarian to the Human Relations Commission. “I wanted to give back to the community and the work on the commission was within my expertise which is multicultural psychology,” said Nazarian. While working as a city commissioner is a volunteer post, there is plenty of prestige and reflects the recent trends that members of the Iranian Jewish community here in Southern California are increasingly getting involved in government. By the way, Nazarian and Shooshani are not first in the Iranian Jewish community to serve as city commissioners, my fourth cousin Shahram Melamed previous served on the Beverly Hills Planning Commission.
The Iranian Jews’ decisions to serve in public offices not only reflect their desire to give back to society but is also a historical milestone as they were historically denied political participation in Iran for centuries. Jews have lived in Iran for 2,500 years but rarely have held positions in government or within the political realm. Since Iranâs Constitution was passed in 1909, Jews have been permitted to select one person from their community to serve in Parliament. This denial of political rights to Iranian Jews is a far cry from the latest news that Century City Iranian Jewish attorney H. David Nahai was nominated to head the L.A. DWP. Of course we in the Iranian Jewish community are proud of the achievement as it is a very important public office within the largest public water and power entity in the country.
On a side note, Shooshani is no novice when it comes to local politics since he became the first Iranian American Jew to run for public office in the U.S. during his 1996 bid for a seat on the Beverly Hills City Council. While he did fall way short of the votes necessary to win, Shooshani became a pioneer within the community since he decided to venture into politics—a area which Iranian Jews had previously not even considered getting into. He subsequently supported Delshad’s efforts to get elected in 2003 to the Beverly Hills City Council. “I did not believe I would win, but I thought it would be an opportunity to learn about the system and open the way for others,” Shooshani said to me in an interview earlier this year. “I’m very happy I did; it was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Earlier this year my piece in the L.A. Jewish Journal uncovered two other Iranian Jews, who in addition to Delshad, were vying for two vacant seats on the city council. While Delshad was re-elected by a narrow margin this year, the three Iranian Jewish candidates collectively earned more than 50% of the votes cast in the election. This substantial voter turn out from our community reflects the reality that Iranian Jews in Beverly Hills are an important constituency for candidates to court for both fundraising purposes and for public support.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa knows how important Iranian Jews are as a constituency because in April 2005, a fundraising event at the Beverly Hills home of Iranian Jewish businessman Leon Farahnik, helped raise $40,000 for his campaign. Hopefully the Iranian Jewish community’s strong financial strength and high voter turn out will prompt more candidates to focus on issues important us—such as support for Israel and weakening Iran’s economic situation. Perhaps the best description of our community’s growing involvement in politics was given to me by Sam Kermanian, secretary general for the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles who said;
“It took a while for us [Iranian Jews] to take care of our immediate needs in the U.S. This is a community that came here as refugees and had to put its foundations in place, so getting involved in politics only became a priority after all these other issues were taken care of.”