Jewish Journal

Why Iranian Jews cannot forget Elghanian’s killing

by Karmel Melamed

May 11, 2009 | 11:03 am

Habib Elghanian

He was known through out Iran at one time as the largest producer of plastic goods, he was a successful importer and industrialist with different manufacturing companies, the wealthiest Jew in Iran and their community’s leader as well as a generous philanthropist to Iranians of all religions. Habib Elghanian was all of these things, but more importantly a symbol of the thriving and vibrant Jewish community that had flourished under the relatively tolerant Pahlavi dynasty in Iran for more than five decades. I spoke recently with Elghanian’s friends and family about his tragic murder 30 years ago and their words were published this week in the L.A. Jewish Journal.

Elghanian employed thousands of individuals in Iran’s first refrigerator manufacturing factory as well as other successful business ventures in Iran. Elghanian had not only built Iran’s first high-rise building in Tehran of 15 stories high—a giant feat at that time, but he also heavily contributed to organizations feeding the needy and orphans of all religions and even built a mosque for his own employees. Despite his many good deeds on behalf of average Iranians, he became the first Jewish victim of Iran’s revolution that took place 30 years ago. Affectionately known to his friends and family members as ‘Haji Habib’, he had initially left Iran at the start of the turbulent Iranian revolution which saw the rise of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power in Iran. Yet Elghanian returned to his homeland several weeks after Khomeini, sensing he had a responsibility as a leader to the Jewish community. The 66-year-old Elghanian was later arrested on February 17, 1979 on trumped up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. After several months in prison, he was given a one-hour sham trial and accused of supposed crimes against the nation of Iran and the Palestinian people. Despite the lack of evidence in his case, a three panel revolutionary court found him guilty and Elghanian was promptly executed by a firing squad on May 9, 1979.

He was the first Jew executed by Iran’s radical Islamic regime and his innocent killing sent shockwaves through Iran’s tight-knit Jewish community that had once lived in relative peace under the Shah. It prompted scores of Iran’s nearly 80,000 Jews to immediately sell off their assets at bargain prices or abandon their assets altogether in order to flee the country for fear of their lives. Today many Iranian Jews in the U.S. and Israel point to Elghanian’s execution as the tipping point for many of them to finally abandon Iran after 2,500 years of living there. Since Elghanian’s execution, a total of 11 Jews in Iran have officially been executed by the current regime and another 14 Jews have been murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents.

Today, after 30 years since Elghanian’s killing, the painful memories remain vivid for many Iranian Jews in Southern California. Community members were tremendously hurt by the event and still question why he was executed by the current Iranian government. So why have I chosen to write about Elghanian’s execution after 30 years? Why have I sought out the people who were there when he was killed in cold blood? The reason is simple—for NO ONE to forget this heinous crime and for the world to wake up the real evil that lies at the heart of Iran’s regime! The current Iranian government which Joe Biden and Barak Obama are trying to “make friends with and negotiate” is the very same regime that executed Elghanian without any evidence and in cold blood. These Iranian leaders DO NOT understand logic, they DO NOT value human life and more importantly they DO NOT respect anyone that does not follow their radical form of Shiite Islam. Elghanian’s killing should serve as a remind to us in the West of the true nature of the Iranian regime which will eliminate or try to eliminate any persons that they do not agree with! Nothing but wasted time and headaches will arise from “negotiating” with Iran’s current government that is hell-bent on gaining nuclear weapons. We must not and cannot fall into their trap which is looking to buy time for their nuclear weapons program. While I do not advocate military force, I believe the current regime in Iran must be chocked economically by all means necessary in order to force its collapse from within. We cannot allow Iran to make an example of Israel with a nuclear strike as it made an example of Elghanian by killing him 30 years ago. We can only pray that those responsible for Elghanian’s killing will be brought to justice someday for their crime just as many ex-Nazis were punished after World War II.

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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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