Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kosher in Tehran

Despite financial inducements, Iranian Jews seem reluctant to emigrate to Israel.

Jonathan Cook

Iran is the new Nazi Germany and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler. Or so Israeli officials have been declaring for months as they and their American allies try to persuade the doubters in Washington that an attack on Tehran is essential. And if the latest media reports are to be trusted, it looks like they may again be winning the battle for hearts and minds: vice-president Dick Cheney is said to be diverting the White House back on track to launch a military strike.

Earlier this year Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and the man who appears to be styling himself as scaremonger-in-chief, told us: "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs." Of Ahmadinejad, he said: "He is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."

A few weeks ago, as Israel's military intelligence claimed - as it has been doing regularly since the early 1990s - that Iran is only a year or so away from the "point of no return" on developing a nuclear warhead, Netanyahu was at it again. "Iran could be the first undeterrable nuclear power," he warned, adding: "This is a Jewish problem like Hitler was a Jewish problem ... The future of the Jewish people depends on the future of Israel."

But Netanyahu has been far from alone in making extravagant claims about a looming genocide from Iran. Israel's new president, Shimon Peres, has compared an Iranian nuclear bomb to a "flying concentration camp". And the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told a German newspaper last year: "[Ahmadinejad] speaks as Hitler did in his time of the extermination of the entire Jewish nation."

There is an interesting problem with selling the "Iran as Nazi Germany" line. If Ahmadinejad really is Hitler, ready to commit genocide against Israel's Jews as soon as he can get his hands on a nuclear weapon, why are some 25,000 Jews living peacefully in Iran and more than reluctant to leave, despite repeated enticements from Israel and American Jews?

What is the basis for Israel's dire forecasts - the ideological scaffolding being erected, presumably, to justify an attack on Iran? Helpfully, as George Bush defended his Iraq policies last month, he reminded us yet again of the menace Iran supposedly poses: it is "threatening to wipe Israel off the map".

This myth has been endlessly recycled since a translating error was made of a speech Ahmadinejad delivered nearly two years ago. Farsi experts have verified that the Iranian president, far from threatening to destroy Israel, was quoting from an earlier speech by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in which he reassured supporters of the Palestinians that "the Zionist regime in Jerusalem" would "vanish from the page of time".

He was not threatening to exterminate Jews or even Israel. He was comparing Israel's occupation of the Palestinians with other illegitimate systems of rule whose time had passed, including the Shahs who once ruled Iran, apartheid South Africa and the Soviet empire. Nonetheless, this erroneous translation has survived and prospered because Israel and her supporters have exploited it for their own crude propaganda purposes.

In the meantime, the 25,000-strong Iranian Jewish community is the largest in the Middle East outside Israel and traces its roots back 3,000 years. As one of several non-Muslim minorities in Iran, Jews there suffer discrimination, but they are certainly no worse off than the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel - and far better off than Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Iranian Jews have little influence on decision-making and are not allowed to hold senior posts in the army or bureaucracy. But they enjoy many freedoms. They have an elected representative in parliament, they practice their religion openly in synagogues, their charities are funded by the Jewish diaspora, and they can travel freely, including to Israel. In Tehran there are six kosher butchers and about 30 synagogues. Ahmadinejad's office recently made a donation to a Jewish hospital in Tehran.

As Ciamak Moresadegh, an Iranian Jewish leader, observed: "If you think Judaism and Zionism are one, it is like thinking Islam and the Taliban are the same, and they are not." Iran's leaders denounce Zionism, which they blame for fuelling discrimination against the Palestinians, but they have also repeatedly avowed that they have no problem with Jews, Judaism or even the state of Israel. Ahmadinejad, caricatured as a merchant of genocide, has in fact called for "regime change" - and then only in the sense that he believes a referendum should be held of all inhabitants of Israel and the occupied territories, including refugees from war, on the nature of the government.

Despite the absence of any threat to Iran's Jews, the Israeli media recently reported that the Israeli government has been trying to find new ways to entice Iranian Jews to Israel. The Ma'ariv newspaper pointed out that previous schemes had found few takers. There was, noted the report, "a lack of desire on the part of thousands of Iranian Jews to leave". According to the New York-based Forward newspaper, a campaign to persuade Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel caused only 152 out of these 25,000 Jews to leave Iran between October 2005 and September 2006, and most of them were said to have emigrated for economic reasons, not political ones.

To step up these efforts - and presumably to avoid the embarrassing incongruence of claiming Iran's genocidal intent while thousands of Jews live happily in Tehran - Israel is now backing a move by Jewish donors to guarantee every Iranian Jewish family $60,000 to settle in Israel, in addition to a host of existing financial incentives that are offered to Jewish immigrants, including loans and cheap mortgages.

The announcement was met with scorn by the Society of Iranian Jews, which issued a statement that their national identity was not for sale. "The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradeable for any amount of money. Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

More important than the welfare of Iranian Jewish families, it seems, is the value of Iranian Jews as a propaganda tool in Israel's battle to persuade the world that coexistence with the Muslim world is impossible. For those who want to engineer a clash of civilisations, the 3,000-year-old Jewish legacy in Iran is not something to be treasured, only another obstacle to war.

Here's a related Juan Cole article on Ahmedinejad, Iran and the looming prospect of another war with a third-rate toothless power... (linked to also above)

11 Comments:

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Cookie..... said...

Why don't they leave? First, people do not like change, and to uproot ones family and leave established business's would be a major change. Second, many Jews also remained in Germany (probably for the same reason) inspite of all the handwritting on the wall and all the warning signals. My understanding is also that they (the Jews), just couldn't believe that things would get as bad as they did.

 
At 1:22 AM, Blogger Mad Zionist said...

This was a terrible article, Gert. I usually respect your choices that offer opposing views to my Zionist beliefs because they tend to be well reasoned and accurate in content, but this was so off, so graphically wrong in not only the conclusions and premise but the facts themselves, that it did your site horrible damage. Finishing it off with a link to Juan Cole, a virulent anti-Semite and contributor to neo-nazi websites, just ruined any reputation you had tried to build as an honest, objective commentator of Israeli politics.


I'm very disappointed in you, Gert. You're better than this trash.

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Madze:

"Finishing it off with a link to Juan Cole, a virulent anti-Semite and contributor to neo-nazi websites [...]"

Cole is not an anti-Semite. If you can prove to me that he contributes to neo-Nazi websites I will gladly take down the whole article.

In the US, the spirit of McCarthy still haunts: it's still customary to call dissenters "Communists" or "neo-Nazis" and when it comes to dissent re. Israel, of course "anti-Semites".

I've seen a lot of evidence that supports the premise of this article.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger Gert said...

As regards Cole, I don't know all that much about the man. A little Google research doesn't in any case unearth any contribution to neo-Nazi websites. The worst criticism I have found is this:

"According to Efraim Karsh, Cole has done "hardly any independent research on the twentieth-century Middle East", and Karsh characterized Cole's analysis of this era as "derivative." He has also responded to Cole's criticism of Israeli policies and the influence of the Israel lobby, comparing them to accusations that have been made in anti-semitic writings.[52] Cole responded directly to Karsh in his blog, dismissing one of Karsh's charges, that Cole's criticisms echo themes in the antisemitic tract Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as a "propaganda technique," adding that "No serious person who knows me or my work would credit his outrageous insinuations for a moment." Cole also defended his knowledge of modern Middle Eastern history, comparing his experience "on the ground" in the modern Arab world favorably with that of Bernard Lewis, a historian he said is "lionized" by Karsh."

Source: Wiki: Juan Cole Criticism

The charge of anti-Semitism by comparing someone's legitimate (but not necessarily correct) position to The Protocols of the Elder of Zion is of course a classical smearing tactic, which also Walt and Mearsheimer had to endure. The charge is usually accompanied by accusations of "anti-Americanism".

 
At 12:49 AM, Blogger Mad Zionist said...

Gert, if you are suggesting Cole is a credible, objective observer of Israel and the middle east you are scaring me. I gave you a lot of credit for being a person on the left who understood the difference between activism and objectivity. The difference between us is I don't deny my bias and the bias of those who agree with me while you pretend that disgraced leftwing radicals like Cole are credible, objective and neutral.

Qualify that he is an activist for anti-Zionism and I will accept your usage of this vomit bag as a source, but please stop peddling this as anything but propaganda from a radical anti-Semite.

Here is a link to further explain Cole's discredited status: Here

Also keep in mind, Cole was rejected from professorship at Yale University because of his bias and anti-Semitism.

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Madze:

Juan Cole comes from a biased position just like anyone else. I do not believe he is an "anti-Zionist activist" at all. To try and prove your point you fall back on David Horowitz from DicoverTheNetworks and FrontPageMag, two publications no one in their right mind would consider objective by any standard.

What you're doing here qualifies as "pot and kettle" at best.

As I said above, Cole isn't the only one that uses rational arguments and evidence that Ahmedinejad's quote (despicable as that little man might be) has been distorted and is now being bandied around uncritically, at every possible occasion.

And here's a rather convincing rebuttal of Cole's opinion by Christopher Hitchens. But you won't like him either, after all he's called some of the West Bank settlers "amongst the worst elements in Israel" (paraphrasing)...

 
At 12:26 AM, Blogger Mad Zionist said...

Gert, do you also consider Yale to be a right wing institution? After all, they rejected Cole in large part because of his radical bias against Israel.

I think you know the answer here, Gert. Just admit he is a radical anti-Zionist and move on.

 
At 2:07 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Madze:

"Gert, do you also consider Yale to be a right wing institution? After all, they rejected Cole in large part because of his radical bias against Israel."

In the US it's now rife to use rejection of tenure as a political weapon. With regards to where one stands on Israel that has happened several time recently and also previously. With regards to opinion on Israel, the US is very McCarthy-esque.

In Europe, things like "Campus-watch" would be marched of the campus, tarred and feathered by students, as they should: suppression of dissent doesn't serve liberal democracy. What ever happened to freedom of speech?

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger David said...

Gert,

You claim that you know little of Juan Cole. You then go on to claim that Cole 'is just as biased as anyone else'. But you cant make this assessment without knowing his work or without knowing the subject. And then it all comes together when you say that Cole's denial of tenure was because tenure in the US is being used as a political tool. But you dont know Cole's work. You probably dont' know Yale's decision for denying him tenure. If you did you would realize that Yale was looking for a scholar on the contemporary Middle East.

Cole is a scholar on the 18th and 19th century Middle East and his latest book is one Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. He has also written on the Ba'hai but none of this puts him in good stead for a position as a prof of contemporary Middle East.

Cole's blog has also brought him unwarranted attention. He likes to refers to people he doesnt agree with as likudniks, zionists, neo-cons. It's quite understandable of Yale to want to distance themselves from someone so controversial esp when his expertise does not really match what they are looking for.

You then go on to assert that this says something about the atmosphere on US campuses and freedom of speech. But your working definition of freedom of speech is too narrow. You don't have to agree with Campus Watch but if you understood what they do, it's not to muzzle debate but to expose what they see as tendentious scholarship. Their ability to muzzle is nil. They have no power to "suppress dissent" and they don't. Those responses tend to come from hyper-sensitive academics who always feel oppressed by the Establishment while they lead comfortable lives writing, research and teaching. Campus Watch had no say on Cole's job at Yale or anything else on that matter. And to think they did is to downgrade the integrity of Yale and exagerate CW's influence. In fact, CW has the right to say whatever they want. If you are going to play the card of freedom of speech, it's gotta be universal and not just for those who agree with your politics.

In fact, Campus Watch has made public this claim by Cole:

"According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready," (July 8, 2005)

The errors are obvious.

You rightly take issue with attempts to smear people with false charges. But you have no problem smearing an entire American Establishment with the charge of McCarthyism. No one shuts up Cole, Chomsky, Joseph Massad, etc for saying what they want. Even W & M who received a one million dollar book contract.

Your argument reminds me of George Soros writing in the New York Review of Books when he equated a few insults of him in the New Republic with the muzzling of debate on free speech. The guy had the gall to say this while being published in the leading American magazine. Its also like a British group called the Independent Jewish Voices who think that they are somehow being muzzled while they publish prolifically in the Guardian and any academic journal they want. It's all self-indulgence with no substance. Really what is being said is these people can dish out the criticism publically but when they are criticized in return, they simply cant take it and usually call that criticism an attempt to stifle debate.

(I don't see how it is a smear to say that W & M's argument is similar to that of the Protocols. It does resemble the Protocols, just with footnotes. Its actually a smear to claim that this criticism is a charge of anti-semitism - which today usually means it has no validity and is more emotive than substantive)

You also make the claim that had Campus Watch existed on European campus' it would be rightly stamped out.

First, Campus Watch exists on the internet not on campus so a student would be unable to kick it out.

Second, like your assessment of Juan Cole, I dont see how you can speak for an entire continent's student body of which you probably know little. Is it even possible to generalize about all European universities and students?

Third, take a look at British campuses. If you want to talk about freedom of speech being denied in Britain you dont have to look much further than the Academic Union's attempt to boycott Israeli Academics.

I know in Europe and Britain its "progressive" and "left-wing" to whip America, but that can be done properly and responsibly.

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Hi David,

Firstly, although you make some good points, you get off on the wrong foot right from the start due to an (understandable) misinterpretation of my response to Mad Zionist.

I made the point that "Juan Cole comes from a biased position just like anyone else" (but I didn't say [he] 'is just as biased as anyone else') in response to Mad Zionist because he proclaims that Cole is a "virulent anti-Semite and contributor to neo-nazi websites" (he is neither), implying that Cole is biased. But Mad Zionist's own position is hopelessly biased: he has repeatedly called the government of Israel a 'bunch of self-loathing Jews and leftists' and has actually called for the assassination of the FM.

The point on Cole's tenure is also largely borne out of confusion: I didn't know Cole had been denied tenure and so obviously didn't know the reasons for that denial either (thanks for informing me). I brought up tenure in a general manner of speaking because it would IMHO be very naive to believe that political battles aren't sometimes fought by means of approving or refusing tenure.

You wrote:

"You then go on to assert that this says something about the atmosphere on US campuses and freedom of speech. But your working definition of freedom of speech is too narrow. You don't have to agree with Campus Watch but if you understood what they do, it's not to muzzle debate but to expose what they see as tendentious scholarship."

What I wrote about the atmosphere on US campuses and freedom of speech comes largely from my own experience as a uni student some 25 years ago. Students were more political back then (for better or for worse) but I seem to recall (perhaps erroneously) a far more open atmosphere. As regards the question of "tendentious scholarship", that should be a matter a peer-reviewed system like a university should be able to cope with entirely internally.

Tell me, has CW also "exposed" scholars that are right-leaning or perhaps too pro-Israel? I doubt that very much...

You wrote:

"You rightly take issue with attempts to smear people with false charges. But you have no problem smearing an entire American Establishment with the charge of McCarthyism. No one shuts up Cole, Chomsky, Joseph Massad, etc for saying what they want. Even W & M who received a one million dollar book contract."

I hope you can now see that I wasn't in any way making the trial of an entire American Establishment (academe). My remarks regarding the embers of McCarthyism still glowing in the US's public debate are entirely valid though and strongly corroborated by my own personal experience. As a left-of-centrist European in favour of a just two-state solution I've been called anything from a "traitor", to "anti-Israel" (bollocks), "anti-Zionist" (nonsense), an "anti-Semite" (hurtful), a "communist" (risible), a "Marxist" (almost bourgeois), "anti-American" (yeehaw!) and more. On Mad Zionist's blog, despite repeated pleading, I featured in his "Marxist Treif" section until very recently. The use of the above terms is very widespread in the US political discourse.

You wrote:

"(I don't see how it is a smear to say that W & M's argument is similar to that of the Protocols. It does resemble the Protocols, just with footnotes. Its actually a smear to claim that this criticism is a charge of anti-semitism - which today usually means it has no validity and is more emotive than substantive)"

Here reason seems to desert you altogether: "It does resemble the Protocols, just with footnotes" does not then imply that the document is synonymous to an anti-Semitic (Judeophobic if you prefer that term) hoax? Wow!

We have already discussed the W&M paper and you asked me to read Dershowitz' rebuttal. You seemed to agree with my assessment of D.'s hastily thrown together (that's how it read to me) piece of reckoning.

We also agreed that the W&M paper seriously overstates the reach Jewish special interest groups have on US foreign policy but does that obvious error make it the PoEoZ with footnotes??? Who's being emotive here?

"[...] this criticism is a charge of anti-semitism - which today usually means it has no validity and is more emotive than substantive [...]"

I think most can still figure out when a claim of anti-Semitism is valid or not.

"Third, take a look at British campuses. If you want to talk about freedom of speech being denied in Britain you dont have to look much further than the Academic Union's attempt to boycott Israeli Academics."

Here I'll simply say that you already know I disagree strongly with this boycott.

Thanks for your comment.

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger David said...

Gert,

That your argment about the atmosphere on US campuses is based on a personal experience 25 years ago speaks to its valiadity. And the notion that academic work can be only be regulated by a peer reviewed system - which you dont define - speaks to naivety. Not only does it ignore the trust granted to those who hold academic positions, and not only does it ignore that not everything written by academics is subject to peer-review, but it implies that the non-academic world has a limited role in reviewing what acadmics produce.

In that way, regardless of your opinion, CW does play a role. The need is to sort out the good they produce from the bad, rather concerning yourself with their balanced position on Israel. Like you said, everyone comes from a biased position so that they target one group should be of no surprise.

On the point of McCarthyism, again the use of personal experience alone does not seem that convincing especially given the fact that its name-calling you are complaining about rather than being blacklisted and prevented from getting a job in your field. McCarthytism did not entail just calling people 'commies'.

Your argument that the bad names you have been called is widespread is US political discourse is again one of these sweeping claims that I dont think you can prove because you neither define 'political discourse' nor can you substantiate it other than using personal experience which doesnt substantiate anything.

Where you claim reason has deserted me in regards to W & M, your understanding of the word 'resembles' deserts you. I never said 'identical'. There are far clearer grounds to argue that W & M's argument - that an undefined, loosely connected bunch of Zionists forms the main thrust behind a US foreign policy (namely the Iraq War) that is detrimental to US interests - resembles the argument that a group of Jews are working against the interests of their own nation to serve their political ends. I dont make such an argument against W & M because it doesnt really say all that much substantively. But to say its somehow emotive says even less if anything. Point out some differences and I will probably agree with you but the idea that it resembles PotEoZ does have merit.

And your simplistic thinking continues when you think that most people can see when something is anti-semitic. Such a remark shows no awareness of the difficult debates surround what today constitutes modern anti-semitism. A similar never-ending debate is on whether affirmative action is racist or not. You also seem to put a lot of weight behind mass opinion. From your assertions on US political discourse, I imagine it is only Europeans that can distinguish what constitutes anti-semitism.

You gloss right over the point on the academic boycott which was not seeking your opinion but rather pointed out that your romanticized view of the European campus discourse (in this case British) is just that - romanticized.

 

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