Local Jewish activists and community groups are calling for a boycott of a Dec. 16 concert by the popular Iranian Muslim musician and singer, Mohsen Yeganeh, who they accuse of using anti-Semitic and anti-Israel lyrics in a song.
“Our community is now recognizing that in this great country, while bigots are free to express bigotry, we are also free to shout down their hate, shame them, and hurt them in their pocketbooks,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a local Iranian Jewish nonprofit group.
Others who have publicly opposed the upcoming concert at downtown L.A.’s Microsoft Theatre include Sinai Temple, Nessah Synagogue and the Hebrew Discovery Center (HDC), a Jewish Iranian organization based in Reseda that created an online petition demanding that the concert be cancelled which has generated more than 4,000 signatures.
“As Jews living in Iran for hundreds of years, we did not have a voice or the right to speak out when anyone in the country spoke bad about us,” HDC’s Rabbi Netanel Louie said. “Now that we have a voice and a right in this country, we must speak out and make people aware of this hate generate against our people”.
One controversy stems from the Farsi language lyrics in Yeganeh’s song “Flock of Vultures,” which in English states, according to one translation, “Two triangles they put on top of each other, then they put a new name on the town, two triangles mean fear and prison, they are the enemies of smiling children.”
Local Iranian Jewish activists argue that the reference to the two triangles refers to the Star of David and that the vultures of the songs title refers to Jews. Another lyric — “just pray that our Friday night man can get back our land” — is believed to be a reference to the Iranian regime’s imams, who during Friday night prayers in Iran regularly call for Israel’s destruction and for Iran to recapture Israeli lands for Muslims.
“We (Iranian Jews) say it in loud and clear terms that we will not stand for attacks to our dignity and to the Jewish State based on hatred and lies, “ said George Haroonian, a local Iranian Jewish activist and former board member of the Iranian Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. “We know and understand Iranian culture and the political scene. Calling Israel and Jews a flock of vultures is pure and simple anti-Semitism!”
Iranian Jewish community members said they were also very upset with an online Farsi language video created by Aparat.com, an Iranian regime state-sponsored news website, that features Yeganeh’s song playing over a series of graphic images of dead or injured Palestinian children, anti-Semitic cartoons and more.
Various Anti-Defamation League local and national offices recently released statements on Twitter condemning the video’s content and Yeganeh’s song. Likewise the “Creative Community For Peace” an entertainment industry organization based in New York that fights cultural boycotts of Israel also released a statement on social media platforms condemning Yeganeh’s upcoming L.A. performance because of his anti-Israel song.
In a letter posted on Facebook, Sinai Temple wrote, “Yeganeh is anti-Semitic in his lyrics, as well as his behavior/actions. An obscene music video … depicts Israel as a child-killing nation, flashing graphic images of maimed and dead children. In the video, he blatantly calls for he destruction of Israel and burns the Israeli flag. Yeganeh’s message is demeaning, divisive and hateful.”
Angela Maddahi, the Iranian Jewish president of Sinai, wrote an email to the theater opposing the concert and calling for it to be cancelled, but indicated that she had received no response.
The Journal’s emails and telephone calls to the Microsoft Theatre were not returned either. According to the venue’s website, tickets for Yeganeh’s concert range from $60 to $350 per person and the performance will be his second in the U.S. after a previous 2014 U.S. concert and other sold-out shows in Europe.
Yeganeh, 32, who according to his website is a self-taught musician and singer who took up his career while studying industrial engineering at the University of Tehran, also did not respond to emails sent to him for comment.
However, he was asked about the concert controversy Dec. 14 during an appearance on the Studio City-based Farsi-language radio station KIRN 670 AM. His response was that he has never tried to make people intentionally upset in his life and that the Iranian regime used his song in its video without his permission. He did not make any apology or further explanation.
The recent campaign against Yeganeh’s has galvanized many Los Angeles area Iranian Jews to speak out. This is a unique phenomenon for a community who for centuries in Iran and for decades in America remained largely silent on the sidelines during such controversies involving Iranian anti-Semitism. In the past, community members in Los Angeles and New York often were not actively speaking out against the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism for fear of the Iranian regime’s potential retaliation against Jews still living in Iran.
Activists said today a substantial segment of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles that are estimated to be 40,000 strong, typically patronize Iranian cultural and musical performances. They said they hope to send a clear message that hatred for Jews or Israel will no longer be tolerated.
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the L.A.-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran” said he was not surprised at Yeganeh’s song lyrics expressing hate for Jews or Israel because the Iranian regime for nearly three decades has been indoctrinating young people in Iran with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and Holocaust denial ideology.
“The specific policy of anti-Semitism in Iran dates back to the late 1990s,” said Nikbakht who has been monitoring anti-Semitic Farsi language media put out by the Iranian regime for more than 30 years. “It has been successful as far as being accepted by millions, including anti-regime factions even though there are indications that some people have been drawn towards the Jews, towards Israel and the minorities because of the regime’s excessive propaganda.”
This isn’t the first time that local members of the Iranian Jewish community have mobilized against performers from Iran perceived to be anti-Semitic. In 2015, various community activists launched a campaign against Akbar Abdi, a Iranian Muslim comedian who had used derogatory terms to describe Jews and who had traveled from Iran to perform Farsi language shows in Southern California and elsewhere in the country. These efforts ultimately led to the cancellation of his event.
Haroonian said many local Iranian Jewish activists will continue to voice their opposition to Yeganeh’s performances during his U.S. concert tour and work with American Jewish groups to expose his song’s message of hate.
He also said some local Iranian Jewish activists will be seeking to reach out to Farsi language media outlets and non-Jewish Iranian media personalities in an effort to educate them about Israel and anti-Semitism.
“We must say to all Iranian artists and entertainers that Jews have always supported and participated in the enhancement of Iran’s culture,” Haroonian said. “Your role should be one of ‘peacemakers’ and if you want to make a political statement, then have the decency to speak out about the whole story — not just the lies and hate propaganda”.