The pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC “actively discouraged” an effort by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to reach out to Iranian-American Jews in Los Angeles, according to Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe.
During Shabbat services on Sept. 21, Wolpe informed his congregation, which has a sizable population of Iranian-American Jews, that Rouhani had extended a request to meet with several members of L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community, but that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) had discouraged such a meeting.
“AIPAC was concerned that a meeting would be used for propaganda purposes,” Wolpe told the Journal on Sep. 25. “I was happy to announce that as AIPAC’s position, though I myself didn't take a position.”
AIPAC’s West Coast office declined to comment. As of press time, the group’s spokesman in its Washington, D.C. headquarters had not returned the Journal’s telephone call or e-mail.
Sam Kermanian, senior adviser to the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) in Los Angeles, told the Journal that when Rouhani’s office reached out to the IAJF about two weeks ago, “We respectfully declined the invitation.”
“It looked like under the current circumstances any such meeting would easily be misinterpreted,” Kermanian said.
When asked whether IAJF consulted with AIPAC, Kermanian said that his group always consults with AIPAC and other national pro-Israel organizations on major issues, but that IAJF’s refusal of Rouhani was its own decision.
Kermanian added that even after IAJF turned down Rouhani’s offer, “The Iranian mission in New York was still inviting individual Jews to a dinner that the Iranians were hosting for the president.” Kermanian said that as far as he knows, nobody from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community accepted the invitation.
Wolpe told his congregation that although he was ambivalent about discussing politics from the pulpit and would not give his personal opinion, he “trust[s] the judgment of AIPAC.” Wolpe added that he believed AIPAC was channeling the view of the Israeli government, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regarded Rouhani’s invitation as a public relations stunt.
According to The Guardian, Rouhani was accompanied to New York by Iran's only Jewish MP, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, as part of his efforts to revamp the country's image.
Although Rouhani’s election last June was welcomed as a potentially moderating force in the Iranian regime, he has not refuted the Holocaust denial of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last week, during an interview in Tehran, NBC news anchor Ann Curry asked Rouhani whether he believed the Holocaust was a “myth.” Rouhani replied: "I'm not a historian. I'm a politician."
Wolpe told his congregation that Rouhani’s pronouncement on the Holocaust was dubious, at best, and reminded them of Netanyahu’s response: “It does not take a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust — it just requires being a human being.”
Netanyahu is clearly skeptical of any sincere political shift in Iran — he has referred to Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Earlier this week, Rouhani used the occasion of attending the U.N. General Assembly to express a more detailed opinion of the Holocaust, telling a group of U.S. reporters that “the Nazis carried out a massacre that cannot be denied, especially against the Jewish people.”
"The massacre by the Nazis was condemnable,” Rouhani said, according to NBC News. “We never want to sit by side with the Nazis. They committed a crime against Jews — which is a crime against Christians, against Muslims, against all of humanity."
Netanyahu called Rouhani’s speech a “cynical PR charade.”
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