Local Iranian Jews honor Iranian-Israeli broadcasting legend
For Iranians living in Iran, Radio Israel’s Menashe Amir’s soft voice and courteous on-air demeanor have made his daily “Voice of Iran” show, broadcast from Jerusalem in Farsi, a long-popular source of news.
“You can say for two or three generations Mr. Amir has represented Israel before the people of Iran,” said George Haroonian, a local Iranian Jewish activist and board member of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills.
Haroonian was among nearly 500 local Iranian Jews and non-Jewish Iranian media personalities who gathered at Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood on Oct. 27 to honor Amir and his near six-decade career as host of the 90-minute show, which is broadcast via a shortwave frequency into Iran and parts of Europe. The event was sponsored by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF).
The “Voice of Iran,” which first aired in 1951 — before Amir became its host — was established as a source of news and to help forge a strong understanding of Israel for people in Iran.
Amir immigrated into Israel in 1958 at the age of 18 and, having fluency in Farsi and journalism experience, was selected to join the radio program in 1960.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iran’s severing of ties with Israel, the radio program served as one of the few accurate and unbiased sources of daily information for listeners in Iran.
“During the last 37 years since the revolution, the goal of our program has been to provide listeners with the most up-to-date news of what has been going on in Israel, in the Middle East, and also what is transpiring in their own country, which is not reported by the Iranian state-run media outlets,” Amir said in a recent interview with the Journal, conducted in Farsi.
Aside from websites and social media, Amir’s radio program is one of the last remaining bridges between the people of Iran and Israel today. The program’s call-in portion also permits listeners in Iran to use a special telephone number in Germany so they can comment freely on the air about events in Iran or ask questions about Israel.
“He [Amir] and his colleagues have consistently and persistently confronted the lies and propaganda against Israel put out by the Iranian regime,” Haroonian said. “He has also conducted many programs and interviews explaining and presenting the history of Israel and the Jewish people.”
While Amir officially retired from the radio program 12 years ago, he said he has continued to work as the program’s host because of “the bureaucracy at the radio station in Israel and in finding someone with the same high level of Farsi fluency and journalism background.”
Haroonian said Amir has not only earned praise from within Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community for being “the unofficial voice of the Iranian Jewry,” but also respect from countless non-Jewish Iranian media personalities who value the integrity of his journalism and his practice of giving Iranians in Iran an opportunity to anonymously voice their grievances on-air about the Iranian regime.
“Without any doubt, the work that Mr. Amir and Radio Israel have carried out over the years in reaching Farsi-speaking audiences in Iran has been significant in many ways and we just have to look at the high numbers of listeners to the program that speak for itself,” said Hossien Hejazi, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim media personality who attended the IAJF event honoring Amir.
Yet with all the praise from many in Southern California’s Iranian community, Amir also has his critics who claim he has failed to pass the torch to a new generation of Farsi-speaking Israelis and has instead remained at the program to promote himself.
“Worst of all, in the process of aggrandizing himself, he [Amir] did not attract the people to assist him, keep up with the new age and technology, and popularize the radio [show] and be prepared to run it after the old generation leaves,” said Dariush Fakheri, past president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit International Judea Foundation (“SIAMAK”) and publisher of the now-defunct Chashm Andaaz, a Farsi-language Jewish magazine.
Fakheri also said he was disappointed with Amir’s failure to use social media and a Farsi website to attract younger listeners in Iran with a positive message about Israel and Jews. He contended that Amir’s radio program is listened to by only a smaller audience of older Iranians in Iran who are used to getting their news from the radio and not the younger generation that now gravitates toward online sources of news.
“Radio Israel’s digital section in Farsi is so behind that a teenager’s Facebook page or Twitter page is better organized and more popular than their online presence,” Fakheri said. “Their website is full of Mr. Amir’s pictures and his articles. He made that all about himself and this speaks volumes about what happened there.”
Fakheri said he has been disappointed by many Iranian Jewish leaders in Los Angeles who have “given too much praise to Amir but failed to properly honor the late Amnon Netzer for his critical role as the first producer and anchor of Radio Israel’s Farsi program between 1955 and 1958. Netzer, who was also an Iranian Jewish professor of Judeo-Persian language and history at Hebrew University in Israel, died in 2008 during a visit to Los Angeles.
Lisa Daftari, an Iranian American journalist and a regular Fox News contributor, said the criticism of Amir should be taken with a grain of salt because he has supported many younger journalists, including herself, and he has tried to connect with younger audiences on and off the air.
“He asks profound questions and engages Iranians of all ages around the world,” Daftari said. “It is his professionalism, integrity and compassion that has earned him a reputation across countries, religions and political lines.”
Amir said he would like to eventually leave his work at the radio program when a proper replacement can be found. He said he wants to complete other projects he has been working on, including a new English-Farsi-Hebrew dictionary and a Farsi-language website about Israel.