An Iranian Professor Recalls His First Encounter with a Jew

Jan. 22 2019

According to the Islamic Republic’s official line—frequently repeated by credulous Western journalists—the country’s small Jewish community enjoys toleration and good treatment so long as its members renounce Zionism and denounce Israel. The reality is very different, as Majid Rafizadeh discovered when, teaching at a university in his native Iran, he delivered a lecture to his students about the Holocaust in violation of the ban on discussing the subject in the classroom. He discovered afterward that one of his students, the first Jew he had ever met, had relatives who were killed in the Shoah:

I soon came to understand the reason [this student] felt the need to keep [her identity] hidden. . . . First, there are systematic and concerted efforts made from the top down by the theocratic regime and several other governments in the region to eliminate Jewish history. There is also a strong push to incite antagonism against the Jewish people. The regime openly encourages debates that revolve around casting doubt on, and questioning the [historicity] of, the Holocaust. It ratchets up anti-Israel slogans and celebrates national anti-Israel holidays such as Quds Day. . . .

One reason behind [the anti-Semitic attitudes] of Iran’s theocratic establishment is that the roots of Jews in Iran date back to a pre-Islamic era, an era that the Iranian government attempts to de-emphasize or erase from the memory of the society. Another reason is rooted in the notion that for the Iranian regime, Jews and Israel are mingled in one category; if you are Jewish, the thinking goes, then you are an Israeli. Since the Iranian regime is opposed to Israel’s existence, Iranian authorities view the Jewish people through the prism of suspicion. They are viewed as Israeli allies, conspirators, and loyalists to Israel and the United States, not to the Iranian government.

Some Jews secretly confess that they are indeed living two separate lives. In their private life they practice their faith, but in public they are extremely cautious, avoiding saying anything [that might identify them as Jews]. Out of fear or in order to survive economically, socially, and academically, some may convert to Islam on the surface but continue to practice Judaism at home. Some have two names, one Muslim, one Jewish.

[Nonetheless], in order to enhance its global legitimacy, . . . the Iranian regime has boasted about [its supposed] tolerance, and pointed to the fact that there are Jews in Iran as a sign that the regime is cosmopolitan and civil. Depending on the circumstance, the Jewish community may be paraded past foreign governments as an example of progress, or trampled down by the Iranian regime as a toxic presence.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Iran, Persian Jewry, Politics & Current Affairs

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat