Jewish Journal


February 10, 2007

Iran’s Jewish Legislator Criticized During L.A. Appearance


By Karmel Melamed

Local Iranian Jewish activists in Southern California criticized the December 4th town hall speaking event at the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) synagogue in West Hollywood that welcomed Maurice Motamed, the current and only Jewish representative to Iran’s parliament.

The invitation extended to Motamed to give an update about the current status of Iran’s Jewry, sparked sharp criticism from the Council of Iranian Jews, a small L.A.-based Iranian Jewish group whose leadership said welcoming Motamed, a member of Iran’s current regime, was inappropriate because it provided a forum for Iran’s regime to spread its propaganda.

“Our community members clearly know he (Motamed) is acting on the orders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said George Haroonian, an local activist with the Council of Iranian Jews. “He represents a regime that every day calls for the destruction of Israel, denies the Holocaust as a state policy, and is the biggest financial and practical support of groups whose main goal is the murder of Jewish people”.

While not naming names, Motamed dismissed the claims of those who opposed his presence at the IAJF synagogue and said his opponents were only trying to attack his character in order to advance their own personal agendas.

“Unfortunately those who say these things approached me three years ago and wanted information about the internal affairs of Iran and since I have not given it to them they have a personal opposition and vengeance against me,” said Motamed.

With nearly 150 mostly older Iranian Jews present, the overall tone set by IAJF board members speaking at the event was one of appreciation and affinity for Iran.

Motamed painted a positive picture about the lives of Jews still living in Iran, claiming they were by in large financially well off, enjoyed religious freedoms free from harassment, and even set to build a new Jewish community center in Teheran on a land recently purchased for $5 million.

Surprisingly, aside from four IAJF board members and a brief appearance by Nessah Cultural Center’s Rabbi David Shofet, no other prominent local Iranian Jewish leaders were present at the IAJF event.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and local expert on the treatment of minorities in Iran, said Motamed’s statements about Jewish life in Iran lack credibility.

“Motamed has himself said during his previous trips to the U.S. that he would say anything and lie for the safety of the Jews in Iran,” said Nikbakht. “He has officially sworn to uphold the interests of Islam and the Islamic Republic upon entering the Islamic Assembly as the Jewish representative, as required by the government’s constitution”.

Nikbakht also questioned Motamed’s allegiances because of a 24-page Persian language report authored and distributed by Motamed at an event held at the Nessah Cultural Center during his 2002 visit to Los Angeles. According to the report, Motamed outlines his activities as a member of the Energy Committee in the Iranian Parliament and his travels to Russia where he urged Russian companies and officials to complete the Iran’s nuclear reactor at the Bushehr location.

IAJF leaders said they were disturbed by the criticism for Motamed coming from community activists who they said did not understand Motamed’s difficulty in trying to protect the interests of Jews living under Iran’s fundamentalist regime.

“He (Motamed) is in a very sensitive position and is walking a tight rope in trying to keep our community there safe and sound,” said Solomon Rastegar, vice-chair of the IAJF. “There are people here in Los Angeles with insufficient knowledge about life in Iran who try to attack him so they can gain credible for themselves”.

Some local Iranian Jewish activists have been had odds with IAJF leaders who have long advocated keeping criticism of Teheran’s regime to a minimum for fear of retributions that might be brought against the roughly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

During the question and answer segment of the event, Motamed again defended his record as a Jewish advocate saying he had spoken out against comments made earlier this year by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who denied the existence of the Holocaust. Motamed also said he has been trying to resolve the case of 12 missing Iranian Jews who tried to flee Iran nearly 12 years ago.

In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran also issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Ahmadinejad’s statements regarding the Holocaust.

Motamed was slated to speak at an October 10th seminar on the future security of Jews living in Iran hosted at the Museum of Tolerance by Los Angeles chapter of Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO), but cancelled his appearance last minute citing scheduling difficulties.

Motamed denied accusations that he had been disinvited to the IJWO event and said he had the full support and confidence of the Iranian Jews worldwide.

“What is important to me is that I feel the support of the 20,000 Jews in Iran and the Iranian Jewish community outside Iran,” said Motamed. “Therefore everything else that is said is unimportant to me”.

Karmel Melamed is an internationally published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Portions of this article were published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:

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