Earlier this week, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, accused Benjamin Netanyahu of “resorting to fake history” and “falsifying [the] Torah” when the latter drew a historical parallel between the Purim story and contemporary relations between Israel and the Islamic Republic. Zarif went on to cite past instances of Iranian beneficence toward Jews as well as to make the claim—frequently cited by his government’s apologists—that Iran remains a welcoming place for Jews. The truth is different, writes Michael Rubin:
How often have pundits talked about the Islamic Republic’s supposed tolerance for Jews by citing the fact that . . . Iran is home to perhaps 20,000 Jews, supposedly the second-greatest Jewish population in the Middle East besides Israel?
Let’s put aside the fact that no one knows just how many Jews are in Iran today. The 20,000 figure has been bandied about since the 1990s, even though many Jews continue to leave Iran for Israel or the United States. And also put aside the fact that the “second largest community” doesn’t mean anything when the difference between the first and the second are several orders of magnitude. . . . What matters is that, under the regime that Zarif represents, Iran has lost at least 80 percent of its Jewish population. That’s generally not a sign that Iran is a welcoming and healthy place for Jews to thrive or even live. . . .
Beyond that, though, [has] Iran [historically been] safe for Jews? It depends. Pogroms—as vicious as any in Eastern Europe—[were frequent in] 19th-century Iran. Then there were the restrictive rules: in 1889, for example, the government prohibited Jews in Isfahan from going outside on wet days lest rainwater spread their impurity. Jews were also forbidden from touching food, speaking loudly, or purchasing any goods in the market. . . .
It is true that, at times, Iran was a relative haven for the Jews. The irony here, though, is that the regime represented by Zarif not only overthrew an Iranian state that allowed its Jewish minority to thrive but also sought to close the door on the laudable regimes of the distant past.