Commentary Magazine


Taking Iranian Jews Hostages

While Iranian Jews have traditionally had it better than some of their religious brethren in Arab lands, the situation for the Iranian Jewish community since the Islamic Revolution has been precarious. The community may number as much as 20,000 now, but that represents less than a fifth of the community’s numbers before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return.

While traditionally Iranians treated Jews relatively well, the notion that Persia and Iran were havens for the Jewish community is nonsense. I’ve previously outlined some excellent histories of the Iranian Jewish community, here and here, for example, while noting the unresolved problem of Iran’s missing Jews, seized and imprisoned, but apparently never formerly charged and certainly never released.

In the past week, however, there have been worrisome signs inside Iran. First, the Jewish representative in Iran’s parliament (a seat is always set aside for one Jewish representative; whomever takes the position is widely despised and treated as collaborating with an oppressive regime) was trotted out to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Fars News Agency described the representative’s speech on Wednesday:

“We Iranian Jews condemn the spiteful, brazen, warmongering and unrealistic statements of Netanyahu, and reiterate that neither him (Netanyahu) nor any other alien has the right to meddle in Iran’s affairs,” [Siamak] Marreh Sadeq said, addressing an open session of the Iranian parliament on Wednesday. “The Zionist regime’s prime minister with its long track record of crime, occupation, assault, savagery and manslaughter cannot comment on Iran’s international conditions or the global peace or the relations of the monotheist Iranian nation with other world countries,” he said.

Then, Iranian officials trotted out members of the Iranian Jewish community to collectively demonstrate in favor of Iran’s negotiating position. “Jews from all Iranian Jewish communities, especially from Tehran, will take part in this gathering to show their solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stances in the recent talks, specially the issues proposed to Group 5+1,” Marreh Sedq announced, also on Wednesday.

When Iran displays its remaining Jews as props—spontaneous and voluntary demonstrations are rare in Iran, and limited to opposition to the regime—there is an implicit threat that if they do not participate, jobs, education, and housing are at stake, as could be their very freedom. Jews, along with Baha’is, have, as minorities, long been the canary in the Iranian coal mine. The West should not miss the message: We have 20,000 hostages. Such are the tactics of an untrustworthy regime, not a friendly or sincere partner.