Let My People Go
by Gad Nahshon
In Passover 2000, we Jews and Israelis alike must protest the imprisonment of 13 Iranian Jews in the city of Shiraz. These innocent Jews are victims of a 'blood libel,' Iranian style. We must call for 'action, not pity.' We are looking for the moral support of the entire international community, the U.N. Amnesty International and of those who rush to condemn Israel for what they define as violations of human rights. Let us see in Passover, the light of justice.
The Jewish community is lobbying for justice and for the release of these 13 Jews, the heroes of our Passover:
- Javeed Beit Yakov, age 40
- Nejat Broukhim, age 35
- Ramin Farzam, age 35
- Nasser Levi Haim, age 45
- Faramarz Kashi, age 34
- Faraz Kashi, age 30 (brother of above)
- Ramin Nemati, age 22
- Shahrokh Paknahad, age 29
- Farhad Saleh, age 30
- Doni Teffilin, age 28
- Omid Teffilin, age 25 (brother of above)
- Navid Bala Zadeh, age 16
- Asher Zadmehr, age 48
The Conference of Presidents is launching in over 3,000 synagogues all over America, a special prayer for these 13 Jews. Millions of Jews and Israeli are joining together in prayer in keeping with our age old tradition. This prayer expresses the solidarity of the world Jewry with the plight of the 13. To this day no formal charges have been brought against them. They were only accused of spying for Israel and the U.S.
In New York, Ronald S. Lauder and Malcolm Hoenlein said that the struggle to release these 13 victims of hate is going on. Of course, it is not clear what the right leverage is to force Iran to do justice to these victims aging from 16 years to 48. Right now we have used "quiet diplomacy" or "sha, sha politics" which was used here during the 1940's in order to save Jews.
In the meantime, George W. Bush, Jr. sent a letter to Ronald S. Lauder in which he expressed solidarity with the Jews and called on Iran to do justice to the 13 Jews: "I believe America must judge the Iranian regime by its conduct toward the 13," wrote Bush. The A.D.L. published a background brief of this case informing us that:
For well over a year, thirteen Jews have been imprisoned by Iranian authorities in the city of Shiraz. Those arrested include a rabbi and community leaders. While the 13 have not been formally charged, the Iranian Government has accused them of spying for the "Zionist regime" and "world arrogance" - Iranian code words for Israel and the United States. In Iran, espionage is punishable by death. In recent months, three of the thirteen were released on bail.
Despite international outrage and advocacy by the international community, the Iranian Government has announced that the imprisoned Jews would go to trial on April 13, 2000 in the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. The Iranian government has indicated that the trial will be closed and than no observers from the diplomatic or human rights community or the media will be permitted to attend.
According to Iranian law, all defendants have the right to choose their own legal representation. Until now, the 10 Jews who remain in prison have been denied the right to choose their own legal representation and have had lawyers appointed by the court. (The three defendants now out on bail have been permitted to retain their own lawyers.) The refusal of the court to allow the 10 defendants to choose their own legal representation is a violation of their fundamental rights under Iranian law and international legal convention. On April 15, the Judiciary announced that the 10 would be permitted to hire their own legal representation. Iran must honor this commitment.
There are up to 25,000 Jews in Iran today. Most live in Teheran, with a few thousand in other Iranian cities. In accordance with Iranian law, there is a Jewish member of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) representing the community.
Jews have lived in Persia/Iran for centuries. At times, they experienced great anti-Semitism and repression, including blood libel charges and forced conversions. Under the Pahlavi reign, the Jewish community thrived.
With the 1979 Iranian Revolution, however, Jewish existence became more precarious. Officially, the community of 80,000 was considered a protected minority and was allowed to practice their religion with relative freedom. However, the safety of the community was dependent on the largesse of the anti-Israel and anti-West government. In the years following the Revolution, the majority of the Jewish community left for Israel, the United States and Europe.
At least 17 Jews, including Jewish community leaders, have been executed since the Revolution, most accused of spying for Israel and the United States or on other charges. In a highly publicized incident in 1979, Habib Alqanayan, a head of the Jewish community was executed. There have also been incidents of confiscation of Jewish property.
The leadership of the Iranian Jewish community has often been forced to publicly condemn Israel and take part in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist demonstrations.
The A.D.L. also suggests that Jews and gentile alike participate in prayer services and vigils and write to many congressmen, leaders, U.N.'s Kofi Annan, the Vatican, and to the ambassadors of many countries such as France, Russia, Japan, Italy, and others.
For more information and guidance, call: Iranian-American Jewish Federation (1-323-654-1791).
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