The Execution of Habib Elghanian
The revolutionary discourse in the Iran of 1970s was highly anti-America and anti-Israel. The opposition to the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi considered him as the "gendarme" of the Persian Gulf, acting on behalf of imperialism. The opposition also viewed Israel as a nation that had been founded by bringing the Jews from all over the world to Palestine, occupying Muslims' holy lands. At that time, Israel also had very close relations with both the Shah's regime and the apartheid regime in South Africa, and was rumored to even have secret relations with Saudi Arabia, and was being accused of supporting Latin American dictators who were torturing their own people. Thus, Israel was viewed as one of the worst regimes in the world by the revolutionary forces in Iran.
It was therefore natural that the 1979 Revolution in Iran worried Iranian Jews. In fact a large number of them had already left Iran before the Revolution. In the revolutionary environment of that era two revolutionary organizations that had fought the Shah's regime, namely, the Mujahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO, also known as MEK) and People's Fedayeen Guerrilla Organization were demanding quick execution without trial of all the senior officials of the Shah's regime, senior military commanders, and the very wealthy people who were supporters of the regime. Several hundred people were executed on the order of the revolutionary court without proper trials and due process, violating the accuseds' rights for defense and other aspects.
One of the executed was Habib Elghanian, an extremely wealthy Iranian Jew who had large investments not only in Iran, but also abroad. For a while he was the leader of the Jewish community in Iran. He was arrested on 16 February 1979and executed on 9 May 1979 on the order of Sadegh Khalkhali, a judge of the revolutionary court with the nickname "the hanging judge." The court's order for Elghanian's execution read,
"Well-known capitalist Habib Elghanian was sentenced to death for creating and spreading corruption and for committing treason against his own countrymen by having relationship with Israel and the Zionists. All of his belongings and those of close members of his family were confiscated for the benefit of theoppressed poor of Iran."
On the day of Elghanian's execution the daily Kayhan published three documents that indicated that he had relationship with the government of Israel, and had invested there. The next day, Kayhan's main news title on the front page was "the relationship between Elghanian and U.S. Congress was revealed." At that time, the revolutionary court was controlled by the MKO, and four days after Elghanian's execution Kayhan published a long statement by the court that had the literary style of the MKO and the type of language that the organization used at the time. The statement said,
"The only word that was not uttered in the Islamic revolutionary court was 'Jew.' The court viewed Elghanian as a Zionist, a capitalist, a plundering exploiter, an Israeli plunder.... Elghanian's religion is [then Israeli Prime Minister] Menachem Begin's, not the religion of the Jews. The enlightened and combatant Iranian Jews have already expressed their hatred of the imperialists and Zionists to Ayatollah [Sayyed Mahmoud] Taleghani [a leading progressive cleric of the time]."
After Elghanian's execution, members of the Society of Iranian Jews met with Ayatollah Khomeini on 14 May 1979, and expressed their concerned regarding what was happening. He told them,
It was said before the Revolution that if the Revolution is victorious, all the [Iranian] Jews and Christians would be massacred [which did not happen]. The goal of all religions is educating human beings; there is no difference between them in this regard. When thieves stole an anklet from a Jewish woman, Imam Ali said, "If Muslim men die of grief over this, they cannot be blamed, but should be praised." We must differentiate between the Jews and the Zionists. More than any other prophet, the Quran has spoken about Moses. The valuable teachings of Moses were against the arrogant and the pharaohs, unlike the Zionists who have an alliance with the arrogant powers [the U.S.] against the oppressed.
The Jews that believe in Moses' teachings regret moving to Israel. They see that the Zionists kill for no reason. We are opposed to the Zionists because they are not Jews, but commit crimes in the name of Judaism. Jews also hate the Zionists. The Islamic Republic will treat the [Iranian] Jews the same way that it treats all the citizens.
"Islam does not authorize extortion against them [the Jews]. It is not like Islam intends to pressure them. Just as God teaches us to respect all nations, so does Islam; be reassured. When we were victorious, did anyone do any aggression against the [Iranian] Jews, Assyrians, Zoroastrians? There was no aggression, and there will not be any. You will see that Islam treats all the strata of the nation better than any other ideology [religion]. You will see that there will be no oppression in the Islamic Republic. We will not oppress [anyone], nor will we be oppressed."
Khomeini's words were not very reassuring. Hence, large-scale migration of Iranian Jews began.
The Current Anti-Semitism in Iran
The discourse of Iranian intellectuals is absolutely not anti-Semitic. Those who have expressed anti-Semitic sentiments also oppose modernity, enlightenment and intellectualism. Such people can be found in any society.
Is it not true that some Israeli and American Jewish clerics have called for destruction of Iran? Is it not true that a Jewish rabbi in Atlanta spreads anti-Islam hatred by genocidal sermons? Is it not true that Eli Ben-Dahan, the new deputy defense minister of Israel, has called the Palestinians "animal?" "Rafael Eitan, who was both chief of staff of the IDF and a minister in several Israeli governments, once called Palestinians "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." In his eulogy of Baruch Goldstein, the man who assassinated Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin said, "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail," distorting the teachings of the Torah. Ayelet Shaked ,Israel's current justice minister has described Palestinian children as "little snakes."
Why, then, is it strange to find some anti-Semite Muslim clerics? Conservative Iranian Ayatollah, Abdollah Javadi Amoli is one such cleric. In Tasnim, his 34 volume of interpreting the Quran, he states
"The thinking of Christianity and Judaism will survive until the Judgement Day, but with hardship. Jews and Christians will always be trapped by differences and hardship." (volume 14, p. 402),
"There is currently no Jew or Christian that acts righteously, because such acts must be according to theImam of their era. In our era the only righteous acts are those that are according to what the Prophet and the twelve Imams of Shiites have taught us."(volume 14, p. 404),
"The reason that Jews are abject is not that they are poor, but that they are weak and cannot rise up [against their rulers]. They are now controlled by colonialists [Zionists] and have their ropes on their necks, even if others [Palestinians] are ruled by them. We can see this in their history of abjectness." (volume 15, p. 374).
"The reason for the hardship and suffering of the Jews is that they have murdered many prophets." When asked how murders that happened in the distant past can be used against Jews now, his response is that "consent to those murders and viewing them a righteous by both Jews of the past and present is the reason for their abject state and suffering."(volume 15, p. 374).
The problem with clerics like Javadi Amoli is that, just as Netanyahu misunderstands or misrepresents the myths in the Torah, such clerics also misunderstand the Quran. Mythical stories of the Torah also are in the Quran, but Javadi Amoli considers them as authentic reports of historical events. For example, the Torah says (Exodus 32:9-28) that after the Israelites worshipped a calf, God ordered the Jews to slaughter one another. 3,000 people were supposedly killed, and then God punished the Israelites severely(Exodus 32:33-35). This story of the Torah is also repeated in the Quran (Baqarah: 51 and 54). Javadi Amoli believes the story to be real, not a mythical one. If such stories were, in fact, true, God would bea bloodthirsty entity, enjoying genocide. Such issues and interpretations have also been discussed by Karl Popper, Peter Singer, and John Hick.
Explaining Emigration of Iranian Jews
The Islamic Republic is a dictatorship that violates the human rights of its citizens systematically. But, discrimination in the Islamic Republic involves all groups, people and religions. For example, the Baha'i minority has been harshly discriminated against. Thus, given such a state of affairs, it is clear that the Iranian Jews are not satisfied with their plights. The simplest way that one can demonstrate this is by looking at the rate of immigration of Iranian Jews. According to various statistics, 65232 Jews lived in Iran in 1956, 60683 in 1966, 62258 in 1976, 26354 in 1986, 12737 in 1996, 9252 in 2006, and 8756 Jews in 2011 (p. 26).
Thus, there is only about 12% of the Jewish population of 1956 still living in Iran; the rest have moved to the United States and Israel. Such factors as discrimination, insecurity, the ease of moving to the West and Israel, and searching for better lives have contributed greatly to the extensive migration.
But, we must also recognize that emigration of Iranians to other countries has not been limited only to the Jews, and includes all strata of the society, including the Shiites. According to the latest report by the World Bank, the net number of Iranians migrating elsewhere is 301,000, and that Iran ranks number 15 among 193 countries in this regard.