The Story of Holocaust Refugees in Tehran Teaches a Lesson in Jewish Solidarity

In 1942, thousands of Polish-born children, most of them without their parents, were evacuated from Soviet Asia to Iran; among them were some 1,000 Jews. Thanks to the efforts of the local Jewish community, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Zionist movement, these Jewish children were cared for and then transported to the Land of Israel. The Israeli-born scholar Mikhal Dekel, whose father and aunt were among those children, tells this story in a recent book. While Allan Arkush expected this work to be composed in the same fashionably post-Zionist key as Dekel’s previous writings, he found something quite different—both to his surprise and the author’s:

There are [several] occasions [in the book] on which Dekel muses about the accidental character and mutability of nationality, but more often, she takes note of its enduring strength. As she retraces her family’s route from Poland to Palestine, she talks with the locals—some quite knowledgeable and some not—about the tensions between the Jews and their neighbors in the past as well as the present. She also read thousands of documents pertaining to the Polish government-in-exile, which revealed precisely what she hoped not to see: “the exclusion of Jews from resources and from their very identity as Poles, and concurrently a denial of this exclusion by Polish authorities.”

Conversely, Dekel was deeply impressed by the evidence she found of a sense of Jewish mutual responsibility all over the world. In the past, she had always thought of the JDC as a somewhat hapless organization. After learning, however, of the efforts it had made to assist the wartime Jewish refugees in Central Asia, she “was amazed by the ingenuity and expediency with which the JDC purchased and shipped the medicines, and by the commitment and urgency with which it acted.”

There was help from closer by, too. When the children and other refugees showed up in Tehran, the local Jewish communities bent over backward to help them.

Reading this, I thought of the 17th-century situation [when Jewish] benefactors from all over the world chipped in to help Polish Jews who had been carried off to the East, and then, too, the local Jewish communities reached deep into their pockets to redeem them. One 20th-century difference—an enormous one—was the fact that one of the Middle Eastern Jewish communities prepared to help was the embryonic Jewish state based in Palestine, and it could do so with more than money.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Holocaust, Iran, post-Zionism, Soviet Union, World War II, Zionism

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount