A Reminder of How Iran Treats Its Jewish Citizens
May 9th marked the 35th anniversary of the “execution” of Iranian-Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian. This prominent figure in Iran’s Jewish community was dragged from his home, brought before a “revolutionary court,” and executed by firing squad all in the same night. The “crimes” of which he was accused included fundraising for Israel and “friendship with the enemies of God.”
This state-sponsored murder of a prominent Jew, and the huge publicity given to it by the new regime headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, marked the start of the vicious persecution of Iran’s religious minorities, first and foremost among them the Jews.
Many Jews had been perceptive enough to leave as soon as the Shah was overthrown, but Elghanian had refused to do so – believing that ethnic minorities would be fairly treated by the revolutionaries.
This first murder of an Iranian for the crime of being Jewish, and therefore a “Zionist” (followed by several more), and the glee with which it was reported sent a wave of fear through the Jewish community. Elghanian’s daughter and son-in-law were immediately evicted from their home and forced to flee the country without taking any of their possessions; they were followed by thousands of Jews who escaped, traveling by every means possible, including on horseback over the mountains between Iran and Syria, to escape the clutches of the fanatics who had taken over the country.
The main destinations were Israel and Los Angeles.
Habib Elghanian’s cousin, Fereshteh Victory, who now lives in the United States, was told the news in Iran at 5.00 a.m. the next morning by a neighbor, furiously knocking at her door, who had been listening to the radio. In an interview with the BBC World Service (whose commentator described Elghanian’s “crime” as “profiteering”), Ms. Victory recalled the horror of seeing in subsequent days that “the front of every bus in Tehran had a huge picture of Habib’s bullet-ridden dead body.”
As Ms. Victory pointed out, prior to this there had been no hostility toward the Iranian Jewish community. In the Shah’s time, relations with Israel were close and many Iranians, Jews and non-Jews, vacationed in Israel, “having breakfast in Tehran and lunch in Tel-Aviv” as she put it. There was plenty of discontent with the Shah and his secret police among the population, but there was absolutely no hostility to Jews.
The Iranian-Jewish community long predates Muslim domination. Jews first arrived 2,700 years ago with the Persian conquest of the Land of Israel and, as we know from the Book of Esther, the Jewish community was well-entrenched and tolerated under Zoroastrian rule. It was King Cyrus II who allowed the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple in 600 b.c.e. In this capacity, he is the only non-Jew to be honored in the Bible with the term “messiah” (Isaiah 44:24,26-45:3,13). Today, there are only approximately 8,000 Jews in Iran and they live in constant fear.
They try as far as possible to melt into the background, even taking false Muslim first names to hide their identity. Most probably, they have only been spared worse persecution by the Iranian government’s desire to lure the West into removing the trade sanctions, so the mullahs can once again profit from Iran’s vast oil wealth. To achieve this, they need to appear to be “moderate” in Western eyes.
Their true intentions, however, are illustrated by the judicial murder of Habib Elghanian and the events that followed.