During the Revolution of 1989, East European Jews Overthrew Their Leaders

Jan. 24 2020

Beginning in June or 1989, Communist rule over the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe began to collapse. Edward Serotta explains how these countries’ Jews reacted:

Ever since the one-party state cemented control of these countries in 1948, rabbis had been run out of town, seminaries and Jewish schools had been closed, kosher food became all but impossible to obtain, and if you showed up for synagogue services, your future job prospects would dry up. . . . That meant [that, in 1989], Jews in these countries were ready to deal with the official community organs that had been spewing anti-Israel propaganda and preventing their children from studying Hebrew—or learning even the first thing about Judaism. It didn’t happen everywhere, all at once, but change was in the air.

In Czechoslovakia, where Jewish life was stifled even more than elsewhere in the Eastern bloc, Jews turned their wrath on Frantisek Kraus, who had been appointed head of the Jewish community four years earlier after his predecessor was removed for being too enthusiastic about Judaism:

During his tenure at the Jewish Federation, Kraus forbade any programs that had to do with Israel, and when a group of younger community members asked him at least to consider allowing a Hebrew-language course, he informed the secret police, who came and grilled everyone who had even asked him.

“The one Jewish organization we did have,” said Andrej Ernyei, a piano tuner and jazz musician, “was our Jewish choir. Almost all of us were adults, and most of us had kids. Singing Hebrew songs together was the one thing we could do together as Jews, and Kraus didn’t think we could do harm to anyone. But he was wrong. We’re the ones who pushed him out.”

When Hanukkah came that December, and choir members were thrilled as the Communists were being hounded out of office, they demanded a communitywide meeting with Kraus. And with no one answering at party headquarters to help him out, Kraus gritted his teeth and prepared for the reckoning. Hundreds of Jews crowded into the venerable hall on Meiselova Street and demanded he resign.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Communism, Czechoslovakia, East European Jewry

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy