Dr. Sima Goel

Advice from a Jewish Refugee in Canada

Like all Canadians, I am fascinated and horrified by the news of desperate refugees seeking asylum in Canada.

These stories are too close to my heart. Over thirty years ago I came to Canada as a young refugee, but to get here I had to first walk over sand, not snow. I left my native Iran in the middle of the night, crossed the most dangerous desert in the world and made my way to Pakistan where I lived an uneasy life for nearly a year, a reluctant guest of the United Nations Political Refugee program. I eventually made my way to Canada on an Alitalia jet. At the airport in Montreal, I made my declaration of intent known to the RCMP immigration officers, who promptly detained me.

Not much separates me from those frightened refugees who trudge through waist- deep snow to get to Canada. Not much separates them from the refugees who tried to escape Hitler’s Europe and find haven here. When asked how many Jews could be accepted during the terrible years of Hitler’s reign, representatives of the Canadian government famously replied, “None is too many.” It was believed that Jews could not or would not be assimilated, nor would they change their ways to adapt to their new country.

When I reflect on this chapter in the Canadian story, I always feel stunned. I see the Jewish community as diverse, respectful, traditional and modern. We defy one- word descriptions. We are complex. Why are the new refugees any less?

In the 1940s, Canada was a predominantly Christian society lead by white European men. When I arrived forty years later, it was still predominantly white and Christian, but the word “Jew” had earned some respect in the increasingly diverse Canadian landscape. I came here, secure in the knowledge that as a member of a minority I was entitled to live life as I chose, to adapt and modify my ways to the Canadian ethic and to create a healthy life for myself, always respecting the values of others.

I delighted in Canadian freedoms. I was glad to leave behind the “one size fits all” of Iranian life, where everything, from music to literature to style of dress was controlled by the religious government.

I came here prepared to work hard. Having just turned eighteen, I spoke only Farsi. I had neither family nor friends in Canada and neither money nor contacts. Canadian and Jewish agencies guided and supported me as I went to school, worked several jobs and learned Canadian ways.

I faced challenges. Life was at times hard and austere, confusing and lonely. But it was always good because I was living life as a free person and learning how to be Canadian.

All refugees are running from something, and today those crossing the invisible border are running to us, the Canadians of 2017. Where once Canadian officials slammed the door, we now welcome the lost and oppressed.

Are we afraid of these new immigrants? Apparently some of us are. When we welcome refugees we need to integrate people of different faith and culture, some of whom have different attitudes towards women, health care and child-rearing. They may hold different political views and they come with their own prejudices. We certainly do.

But if history shows us anything, it shows us that human beings adapt. The current American president comes from German stock. The one before him had a Kenyan father. Our own prime minister has French Canadian, English, Scottish and Dutch forbears. He is quintessentially Canadian in his expression of the importance of human rights and freedoms.

When I read stories of these terrified refugees, I wonder what other Canadians think. I am sure some are compassionate, while others fear potential terrorists and welfare loafers. Some focus on a possible economic burden, saying that charity begins at home. Others see eventual economic growth from the influx of new immigrants.

I came here, determined to make a place for myself. I knew I was not going to be a burden. I came here to learn what it means to be Canadian, to embrace two new languages, to learn new ways. It was my intention to work hard and repay Canada and Canadians for every kindness, good deed and act of support.

And I have.

Forty years ago Vietnamese and Romanians came to our borders. In later years, we received waves of asylum seekers from El Salvador and other South American points. Thirty years ago, I arrived. Canada has always kept its doors open to newcomers who want to join the Canadian way of life.

It’s hard to change worlds. I struggled with my new reality. I remembered the sweetness of my home country, but I had no desire to replicate Iran’s terror, intolerance and oppression. I fled Iran for the opportunities here, and I was free to choose for myself how much of my Iranian past I took with me. I chose to embrace Canadian freedom because I wanted to be the captain of my own life. I did not want the government to control who I befriended, what I studied, what music I listened to and how I presented myself to the world. If there were things I did not like about Canada, I accepted them. I did not expect people to adapt to my needs, upbringing and desires and nor should any immigrant or refugee. I left because I needed change and change I found here in Canada. All those who enter Canada must learn what it means to be Canadian and the values that entails. We are all free to practice as we please in our personal life, but for the respect of all Canadians the charter of rights prevails.

Thirty years later, I am Canadian to the bone: my background is diverse but my focus is laser- sharp; nobody can touch my freedom. I live in a world of diversity and I respect that we are bound by our shared desire to live with dignity and to express our individuality. We have no right to impose our values on other Canadians, but we do share the common ethic of respect and tolerance. We live and let live, within the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which clearly accepts that the human being is entitled to self-expression, self-control and acceptance.

Integration is not a new concept to Canadians, we have always embraced it and we shall continue to allow it to thrive within our diverse society. Remember, for all of us to feel at home, we must not change the rules of the house.

Dr. Sima Goel is the author of Fleeing the Hijab: A Jewish Woman’s Escape from IranAuthor, inspirational speaker, freelance writer and chiropractor, Iranian-born Dr. Sima Goel has dedicated her life to promoting the importance and fragility of freedom. 


‘Baba Joon,’ Israel’s Farsi-language film and official 2016 Academy Awards entry, to open the Israel

The Israel Film Festival kicks off its 29th season on Oct. 28 with one of the most unusual movies to emerge from the Jewish state, with characters who speak mainly in Farsi and represent a distinct thread in the country’s ethnic fabric.

“Baba Joon” garnered five Ophirs, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars, this year. The key Ophir was for best film, which automatically made the movie Israel’s entry for the Academy Award competition for best foreign-language film.

The film’s title is an affectionate Farsi salutation of a son to his father and takes on a more respectful dimension in speaking to one’s grandfather, said director-writer Yuval Delshad in a phone conversation from Israel.

For Delshad, 44, who is related to former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, “Baba Joon” represents not only his debut feature but also an exploration of his own youth growing up in the dusty moshav of Zrahia in the northern Negev. Its inhabitants were almost all devout Persian-Jewish immigrants, who generally eked out a hardscrabble existence in a part of Israel rarely seen by tourists.

The entire 91-minute film is set on the turkey farm of Yitzhak, built by the sweat of his father after the latter emigrated from Iran to Israel. The old man ruled his family, especially his male descendants, with a heavy hand, and now that Yitzhak runs the farm, the latter applies the same discipline to his 13-year-old son Moti, so the boy can take over the farm when the time comes.

However, Moti’s passion lies in putting together junkyard cars, and he is the only one who can keep the family TV set functioning. He abhors the idea of spending his life in the company of gobbling turkeys or slicing off the beaks of turkey chicks.

So the scene is set for a classic generational clash in a culture in which the father is the pre-eminent authority, sharpened within an immigrant family whose elders speak Farsi and the children answer in Hebrew.

At this juncture, as in many Old World tales, the uncle from America arrives with tales of untold riches awaiting hardworking immigrants, particularly in golden California. Uncle Darius makes and sells jewelry, and as he trains Moti to follow in his footsteps, he promises the boy, “You can sell them in Beverly Hills and you’ll become a millionaire.”

But Uncle Darius, who has remained a bachelor, acknowledges that beneath all the glitter he is not happy. “I am all alone,” he says, triggering a tug-of-war in which the brothers try to convince each other to settle in their respective countries.

It would be unfair to reveal the emotional ending of the film, which is marked by superb cinematography of largely barren landscapes and fine acting by an oddly assembled cast.

For the key roles of father Yitzhak and son Moti, director Delshad first cast experienced actor Navid Negahban, best known in the United States as the terror mastermind Abu Nazir in Showtime’s “Homeland.” 

By contrast, 13-year-old Asher Avrahami, who had never acted before, was discovered during an audition in a village not far from the moshav where Delshad grew up in the 1980s. The boy turns in an absolutely convincing performance, and he is ably supported by a cast of actors of Iranian descent, some living in Israel and others in Europe, mostly Jewish.

Delshad said that he cast only actors who grew up in a Persian family environment. Even though he himself was born in Israel and has never been to Iran, Delshad said, “Iranian culture is amazing. It is in my DNA, my roots are there, and my dream is to visit the country some day.”

There are some 300,000 Persian Jews living in Israel and although most have integrated well, it’s a hard life, Delshad said. Those looking for greater material opportunities often move to New York or Los Angeles, to “the land of opportunities,” he said.

As for Delshad, he now lives in a Tel Aviv suburb with his wife, a son and a daughter, and he is happy to report there is no “cultural conflict between the generations.”

“Baba Joon” was made on a budget of about $1 million, with a small portion contributed by Angelenos Younes and Soraya Nazarian through their family foundation. Early buzz in the Hollywood trade papers gives “Baba Joon” a solid chance to land among the five finalists contending for the foreign-language film Oscar.

The Israel Film Festival runs Oct. 28-Nov. 19, with the opening night’s premiere of “Baba Joon” at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. During the evening, the Israel Film Festival will honor writer and producer Aaron Sorkin with the IFF Achievement in Film and Television Award, announced Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the IsraFest Foundation. On the same platform, Sharon S. Nazarian will receive the IFF Humanitarian Award.

A third honoree is actress Helen Mirren, who stars in “Woman in Gold,” which will be among the festival’s 29 narrative and documentary films, including numerous Los Angeles, American and world premieres. She will receive the IFF Career Achievement Award.

For ticket and general information, visit israelfilmfestival.com, call (310) 247-1800 or email info@israelfilmfestival.org.

Farsi-language film ‘Baba Joon’ to be Israel’s Oscar entry

“Baba Joon,” a Farsi-language movie made by an Iranian-Israeli director and a group of Iranian-born actors, will be Israel’s entry in this year’s Academy Awards.

The film will be entered in the best foreign language film category after winning best picture at Monday’s Ophir Awards, Israel’s version of the Oscars. It also won in four other categories: art direction, music, costume design and casting.

“Baba Joon,” the story of familial conflict among three generations of Iranian Jewish men, was written and directed by Yuval Delshad.

Set in an Israeli agricultural village settled by Iranian immigrants, the film tells the story of Yitzchak, a Persian-Israeli who, like his father, tends a turkey farm in a rural village in the Negev Desert. Yitzchak’s brother, Daryush, has moved to the United States to live a freer life. Their father, Baba Joon, wants to maintain the family’s traditional values while Yitzchak’s son, Moti, struggles with his family’s religious and patriarchal limitations.

Netanyahu tweets in Farsi against Iran nuclear deal

In an 11th-hour escalation of his lobbying against an expected nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned to the Iranian public on Monday with a new Farsi-language Twitter account.

An Israeli official said Netanyahu aimed to persuade ordinary Iranians they stood to lose from a deal that limits, but does not eliminate, Tehran's nuclear program because “the more the regime feels strong and impervious to foreign pressure, the more it increases domestic oppression”.

Israel, not a party to the negotiations with Iran, has tried with little effect to get the terms imposed on its arch-foe toughened up. The talks, held in Vienna, appeared close to yielding a deal ahead of a midnight deadline.

Tweets posted on Netanyahu's new account, @IsraeliPM_Farsi, restated his argument that such a deal would “pave the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs and billions of dollars for terrorism” and that the Iranian leadership should not be engaged diplomatically while it orchestrates anti-U.S. “hate marches” on the streets of Tehran.

Some Farsi-fluent Twitter users were unimpressed.

One spotted a syntax error in the account. Another suggested Netanyahu might be better off “explaining with a crude cartoon” – a reference to an illustration the Israeli prime minister held up during a U.N. speech in 2012 to show how close Iran, which insists its nuclear projects are peaceful, was to making a bomb.

Westwood stores promote Iran; activists call foul

After being alerted by local Iranian-American activists, the Westwood Neighborhood Council on Sept. 10 passed a motion calling on the Los Angeles City Council to remove signs written in Farsi that have been displayed inside some stores advertising consular services for the Iranian government, as well as assistance for travel to Iran and for trade with companies inside Iran. 

“The U.S. government does not have diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and there is no Iranian Embassy in the U.S., so we are surprised there are stores and businesses in Westwood with Farsi signs advertising that they are involved with consular services for the Iranian government in Los Angeles,” Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian political activist and member of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, told the Journal.

Farahanipour, who owns a Westwood restaurant and is head of the L.A.-based Iranian opposition party Marze Por Gohar, said that about three months ago, he and other Iranians began to notice what has grown to as many as a dozen Farsi-language signs in stores along Westwood Boulevard advertising Iranian government consular affairs, shipping services for both commercial and personal goods to and from Iran, as well as travel agencies promoting Iran Air, the Iranian regime’s official airline. 

According to the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department websites, it is illegal to conduct business with entities in Iran, the Iranian government and business entities connected to the Iranian regime. Further, the 2010 federal Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act ratcheted up sanctions on the Iranian regime by prohibiting U.S. companies from interacting with certain international companies that do business with the Iranian regime. Moreover, the U.S. Treasury Department’s 2011 terrorist lists name Iran Air as a sponsor of terrorism and prohibit doing business with the airline. 

The U.S. does not have any diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime, and there is no Iranian Embassy in the U.S., however the regime currently maintains an office inside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., that helps process certain government forms, including passports and visas for individuals seeking to travel to Iran.

The news of the content of the signs was met with surprise locally. “The homeowners and residents have been walking by these Farsi signs for months, which they can’t read and were totally unaware that while the English signs are advertising wedding photography or other clerical services, the Farsi advertising is saying something totally different and possibly illegal,” said Sandy Brown, a homeowner member of the Westwood Neighborhood Council and president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association. “If you’re talking about an Iranian consulate, it makes residents concerned about what these people are doing with the Iranian government.”

The Westwood Neighborhood Council’s motion has called upon L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the area, to call for the removal of the signs. Brown said the council’s motion, along with English translations of the Farsi signs, also were forwarded to the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Koretz’s office released a statement to the Journal regarding the Farsi sign controversy, stating, “We have received the motion from the Westwood Neighborhood Council, and are following up with the LAPD and state and federal agencies regarding the alleged violations.”

 This reporter found that as of Sept. 11, three stores along Westwood Boulevard still had Farsi signs offering “consular services related to the Iranian Embassy in Washington D.C.,” as well as help in obtaining “Iranian national identification paperwork, Iranian passport and consular affairs and legal services in Iran.” The Journal’s investigation found as many as five travel agencies along Westwood Boulevard displaying Farsi signs offering help with travel services to Iran, and one agency had posted the Iran Air logo in its display window. In addition, two stores with Farsi advertising offered direct shipping services of goods from the U.S. to Iran. 

The storeowners with these Farsi signs declined to speak with the Journal regarding the scope of their work.

Activists against the Iranian regime said that in past years they have noticed an increase in activity from individuals and Iranian organizations attempting to promote illegal trade with Iran. Specifically, they pointed to an advertisement that ran in the L.A.-based Farsi-language newspaper Asre Emrooz during the month of February promoting an “Iranian Chamber of Commerce in America,” based in Maryland. The ad encouraged Iranian-Americans to invest in various companies and industries inside Iran with the help of a new trade organization.

Some Iranians discounted the concerns about the legality of these signs, suggesting the businesses are simply operating as independent middlemen for people seeking to get their paperwork processed by the Iranian office within the Pakistani Embassy.

“I honestly don’t believe there is anything illegal going on in these businesses that are advertising consular services,” said one store patron, who asked that his name be withheld for fear that the Iranian regime may retaliate against his family in Iran for his speaking to a Jewish publication. “These people are only taking a small fee for helping older or unfamiliar Iranians with preparing their paperwork in order to get back to Iran for a visit or to settle family matters.”

Still, Iranian-Jewish activists, in particular, said the Farsi-language signs are cause for security concern for local Iranian religious minorities and individuals who openly oppose the Iranian regime.

“In the past, any normalization and acceptance of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) presence and, in particular, their political representatives or agents, had quickly resulted in intimidation of the political and religious refugees,” said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran. 

“Anti-Semitism propagated by certain elements associated with the IRI during the years before 9/11, including open anti-Semitic talk and propaganda, contributed to shootings and beatings of Jewish youth in several 2002 incidents here in Los Angeles,” he said.

Nikbakht said the regime has used its diplomatic immunity in European and South American countries to carry out several assassinations of their political opponents, as well as conduct terrorist activities against Jews, including the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center, which is believed to have been orchestrated by the Iranian government. 

Likewise, he said, the Iranian regime used its diplomatic immunity to fund Farsi-language publications of such overtly anti-Semitic works as the infamous 19th-century “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as well as to fund Holocaust deniers in the West.

Leaders from several local Jewish organizations alerted to the illegal Farsi-language signs praised the Iranian-American activists and the neighborhood council members for speaking out about the content of the signs.

“First, it shows a degree of vigilance and diligence by local activists to ensure existing sanctions against the Iranian regime are not circumvented with impunity,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the local activists for their initiative. Secondly, their activism marks another stage of the maturing of Iranian-American activism, using the powers guaranteed by our Constitution to use the law to fight the ‘mullah-tocracy’ in their homeland.”

Leaders of 30 Years After, the Los Angeles-based Iranian-Jewish activist group, expressed concern that the businesses in Westwood were potentially breaking U.S. federal laws limiting relations with Iran.

“Any attempt to flout our nation’s economic sanctions toward Iran is a cause for concern,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After. “That Iranian businesses are doing it in the heart of Westwood is deeply troubling and must be investigated.”  Officials at the Los Angeles FBI offices and LAPD’s Major Crimes Division did not return calls for comment. Representatives at the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations also did not return calls for comment.

For Iranian-born actors, Israel’s first Farsi movie carries echo of lost home

An Iranian-Israeli director and a group of Iranian-born actors are making a movie in Farsi, the language of Iran.

“Baba Joon,” a story of familial conflict between three generations of Iranian Jewish men set to hit theaters next year, is the first Farsi movie ever to be made in Israel.

Set in an Israeli agricultural village settled by Iranian immigrants, the film tells the story of Yitzchak, a Persian Israeli who, like his father, tends a turkey farm in a rural village in the Negev Desert. Yitzchak’s brother, Daryush, has moved to the United States to live a freer life. Their father, Baba Joon, wants to maintain the family’s traditional values while Yitzchak’s son, Moti, struggles with his family’s religious and patriarchal limitations.

“I hope that people start putting their differences aside and accepting their differences,” said Navid Negahban, the Iranian-born American actor who portrays Yitzchak. “I think the film will help. It’s opening a window into a life that most people are unaware of.”

Director Yuval Delshad said he prioritized authenticity in casting “Baba Joon,” choosing actors whose personal stories mirror those of their characters.

David Diaan, who plays Daryush, is an Iranian-born Jew who lives in Los Angeles. Faraj Aliasi, 73, who plays Baba Joon, is a Persian Israeli who, like his character, has lived much of his life in a small Israeli agricultural village. Asher Avrahami, the 13-year-old who plays Moti, is from the same village, the largely Persian town of Zerahia in southern Israel.

“I looked for actors that would be Iranian and would share something in the characters I created,” said Delshad, who also wrote the film. “The world they come from is the world of the story.”

Diaan and Negahban, who also portrays Abu Nazir in the acclaimed Showtime series “Homeland,” worked together on “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a 2008 film about a woman stoned to death over allegations of infidelity that turned out to be false. Both actors expressed hope that the Iran-Israel conflict would cool down and emphasized the importance of intercultural reconciliation.

“Israel, Iran, Arabs and Jews, Sunni and Shiite [say,] ‘We don’t get along, let’s fight,’ ” Diaan said. “Today it’s a different time. It’s a different age. I’m a good person, you’re a good person, let’s party.”

No one involved with the production admitted to being concerned that tensions between Israel and Iran might affect the movie. Producer David Silber, who worked on the Oscar-nominated 2007 film “Beaufort,” says the film is meant for a wide audience and could even reach Iranian viewers illegally should the regime ban it.

“Like a Greek myth, it’s relevant to every culture,” Silber said. “Maybe there will be a way for [Iranians] to see it. The second it gets to a streaming site they’ll see it, unless the site is blocked.”

Despite being of different religions, generations and nationalities, the actors said they connected with each other over their common Iranian heritage. When Delshad put on a cassette of an Iranian folk song during filming, actors said several members of the cast began crying.

“There is a deep connection that you don’t lose,” Negahban said. “It’s not that you’re still connected 100 percent to where you came from, but you have the place you came from in your heart.”

Negahban and Diaan appear alongside Aliasi and Avrahami, neither of whom had acted before joining “Baba Joon.” Delshad said neither had trouble on the set because the film is set in a village meant to mirror Zerahia.

Much of the movie is now being filmed at Ayanot, a youth village a half-hour north of Zerahia. It’s a tawdry place, with faded brown stucco buildings and patchy grass. Aliasi said the film gets the details of life in Zerahia “exactly” right.

For the actors, many of whom left Iran at a young age, working on the film has been an opportunity to reconnect to their homeland and portray Iranian culture in a warm, if complex, light.

“I grew up in America, but when I do something in Farsi it’s so natural and so second nature to me,” Diaan said. “I lived in Iran until I was 16. We still keep the language alive. It’s still my first language.”

Iranian-Jewish doctor spreads Holocaust truth in Farsi

As Jews worldwide remembered and honored the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust in recent weeks, Dr. Ari Babaknia, a renowned Newport Beach Iranian-Jewish obstetrician and gynecologist, was crisscrossing the country — touring Southern California and New York City — and making his own unique contribution to the cause.

The 60-something Babaknia is not a formally trained Holocaust scholar, nor a professional historian, yet he found himself educating Iranians of various religions about the Nazis’ Final Solution and other 20th-century genocides. His undying passion to learn about the Shoah in the last two decades has made him the sole voice of Holocaust awareness to millions of Iranians in the United States and overseas.

“Many years ago, I realized that there was no book about the Holocaust in Farsi, even though there are more than 150 million people in the world who are fluent in Farsi,” said Babaknia, who attended medical school in Iran but underwent his specialty training at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. “My goal and the goal of my organization, the Memorah Foundation, is to spread the truth about the Holocaust in the Middle East because people in the region and Iran have been hearing rhetoric about the Holocaust, and now they want to know the truth about the Holocaust.”

In 2012, his efforts culminated in the publication of the first and only original Farsi-language history of the Shoah, a four-volume, 2,400-page book called “Holocaust.” (There have been some works related to the topic translated into Farsi, but none nearly as comprehensive.) Then, earlier this year, he published “Humanity, Not,” a 300-page English-language book that juxtaposes the words of scholars, survivors, Holocaust victims and others with impressionistic sketches about the Shoah from the late Iranian-Muslim artist Ardeshir Mohasses. 

“Mr. Mohasses was like the Iranian Norman Rockwell — perhaps more famous than Rockwell because he was internationally renowned,” Babaknia said. “He did 300 amazing paintings, capturing almost every aspect of the Holocaust, capturing both the emotions and ethics of the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust in a very graphic manner.”

Babaknia’s earlier work, “Holocaust,” is more of a straightforward history. It details the events of the Shoah from the rise of Nazism in Germany to the final days of World War II. The book is also filled with graphic photographs from the era as well as countless official U.S. and European government documents from the time period. The final volume chronicles other genocides that occurred in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan.

He wrote out the book by hand, which required 13,000 pages, and spent $2.5 million over the years on the research, assistants and other elements necessary to put it together. 

More than 3,000 copies of the book have been sold through a select few bookstores in Southern California and online. All proceeds have gone to the Memorah Foundation to educate individuals of Middle Eastern background about the Holocaust and the need for tolerance. 

“Believe it or not, 90 percent of the buyers of the Holocaust book in Farsi have been Iranian-Muslims because they have real interests and curiosity to learn more about it,” Babaknia said. “There has never been a definitive book about this subject matter in their mother language until now, which is drawing their attention.”

Its success has led to speaking invitations from many Iranian community and social groups, including mosques. 

Ali Massoudi, a 77-year-old retired Iranian-Muslim journalist based in Irvine, said the book has wide appeal.

“I’ve received feedback myself that people in Iran who have seen Dr. Babaknia on Iranian television broadcasting from the U.S. have been encouraged to learn more about the Holocaust and are trying to find out how to get their hands on copies of the book,” he said. “Dr. Babaknia’s book presents the Holocaust as a tragedy for all of humanity and not just the Jews — this has really resonated with Iranians of different faiths.”

Babaknia’s books come at an important time for his target population. In March, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei questioned if the Holocaust took place, and the country’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a longtime Holocaust denier. The Iranian regime also has  hosted several conferences over the years, featuring American neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists. 

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-American human rights activist who heads the Los Angeles-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said there will be lasting, positive impacts among average non-Jewish Iranians living in Iran and elsewhere as a result of Babaknia’s work.

“After more than three decades of censorship of the Holocaust in Iran, Dr. Babaknia’s documentation of this historical event in Farsi and its potential of becoming a credible source for future generations of Iranian-Muslims is indeed a major landmark whose importance will increase with time,” he said.

Babaknia said he has plans in the near future to make “Holocaust” available online for anyone to download for free from his foundation’s website, knowhate.org. This online resource provides visitors with information about the Holocaust and other genocides in Farsi and English, with translations in Turkish and Arabic expected to come.

Despite the positive reception Babaknia’s book has received from non-Jewish Iranian-Americans, the author said he’s been surprised by the amount of indifference he’s encountered from many Iranian Jews.

“I am honestly amazed that people in the Iranian-Jewish community tell me in front of my face, ‘Thank you for what you have done, but I’m not going to read your book because it will make me sad.’ 

“Our emotions about the Holocaust should be more than anger, more than sadness and more than a revolting feeling. We have to read and learn about the Holocaust  so we can become better human beings and become more sensitized to others’ suffering.”

Tabby Davoodi is among the young leaders in the local Iranian-Jewish community who have been drawn to Babaknia’s message and efforts to educate Iranians about the Holocaust.

“The Talmud teaches us that ‘in a place where there is no leader, strive to be a leader.’ Dr. Babaknia embodies this wisdom and call to action,” said Davoodi, executive director of 30 Years After, a Los Angeles-based Iranian-Jewish organization. “In the end, the Shoah belongs to all Jews, including Iranian Jews, because it is forever tragically sealed in the fabric of the Jewish people,” Davoodi said. “As Iranian-American Jews, we are but one thread in this unbreakable fabric, and any loss of Jewish life anywhere around the world is ours to mourn.”

For more information about Dr. Ari Babaknia’s new book and Shoah commemoration events in the Iranian-Jewish community, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews. 

Iranian Jews hold pro-nuclear rally in Tehran

Iranian Jews holding Torah scrolls demonstrated in Tehran in support of Iran’s nuclear program.

Demonstrators, who also held signs in English, Hebrew and Farsi, rallied Tuesday in front of the United Nations office in Tehran, according to The Jerusalem Post. They denounced Zionism and threw their support behind the country’s nuclear talks negotiating team.

The rally was held a day before the resumption in Geneva of negotiations between Iran and world powers over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Also in advance of the meetings, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday announced in broadcast remarks that his country wants friendly ties with the world community, including the United States, but that Israel is “doomed to extinction.”

He said France, which has taken a hard-line stance during the negotiations, is “not only succumbing to the United States, but they are kneeling before the Israeli regime.”

Israel has objected fiercely to the current deal reported to be on the table, under which crippling sanctions on Iran would be eased if it stops enriching uranium to more than a minimum percentage.

Under the Tehran sky

Yom Kippur 2010. The part of the synagogue where I sit is full of women talking with one another, and small kids giggling and playing around. It is extremely hot, and the extra layers of manteau (long outerwear) and the scarf covering my hair add to the intolerable heat.

I try to grab a prayer book for Yom Kippur and concentrate on reading the prayers, but to hear the rabbi, who doesn’t use a microphone on Yom Kippur, amid the constant murmurs of the chitchatting women is almost impossible. But everything seems and sounds so familiar. This is what I grew up with. So now, about 10 years after leaving, I am back home, back in Tehran.

When I left Iran on an early-morning flight in 2001, the minute the airplane started to fly under the star-filled sky of Tehran, even as I was trying hard to hold back my tears, I made a pledge that one day I would come back. Living in Iran as Jews obviously was not as easy as it is in the United States. Sometimes we were afraid of revealing ourselves to be Jewish specifically because of a political situation in Israel. We had to separate ourselves from Israel, stating that Jews and Judaism are different from Israel and Zionism. But my family was never persecuted because of being Jewish. I always wanted to return, at least for a visit, so now, on my flight back a decade later, as the plane touched down, my heart pounded so hard that I could hear it in my ears. Was I dreaming? A short while later, the voice of the officer at passport control saying, “Welcome back,” cast away my doubt. 

The taxi driver who drove my family to my parents’ home — including my husband, me and our two daughters, ages 4  1/2 and 2 — was speeding so fast that I felt the vehicle was going to fly.  My parent are, essentially, my only remaining relatives in my country, and this was the first time my father was going to see my younger daughter. 

The streets of Tehran seemed different, with so many new roads. Even the airport was not the one that I had departed from. I felt like one of the “Companions of the Cave”; a story from Persian literature about a group of youths who fall asleep in a cave and wake up after 300 years to see that everything has changed.

The money had changed, too, and some coins are now worthless. The price of a magazine or bread was not even close to what I paid 10 years before. It took me a while to learn to decipher the currency, with so many zeros behind the first number. Sometimes it was easier to read the Arabic numeral on the back of the bill, which gave a clue to its dollar worth. For example 1,000,000 rials was now worth almost $100, and you could read the number 100 in Arabic on the back of that bill. (Iran’s currency has since declined in value to almost one-fourth of what it was when I lived there, much of the loss because of recent sanctions.)

Even the street I grew up on was different. There was no trace of the single-family houses with pools and big backyards anymore. All I could see on my street, and later, to my surprise, throughout the whole city, were tall apartment buildings. But the old, three-story apartment in the west part of Tehran where I lived for my whole life before I left, was almost the same, except for a little remodeling my dad had done.

Taxis offered us the best form of transportation, although the newly constructed underground metro was an option. Driving between lane lines didn’t mean anything here, and drivers honked at each other all the time. I decided I could never drive in a city like this. (To see a car marked “Women’s Taxi” was the last thing I would have imagined, but the sign indicated that the driver was a woman and was allowed to pick up women traveling solo.) 

We always tried to speak pure Farsi, although we could hear a lot of new words and slang that we weren’t familiar with, but often, our kids speaking English would reveal our foreignness. It took us a few days to get used to the smog. When we first arrived, I thought something was on fire until I realized it was simply air pollution. As a friend told me sarcastically, “This is one of our improvements. Tehran is one of the top polluted cities in the world.”

Despite all this, my hometown of Tehran is still beautiful. Trees, hundreds of years old,  on both sides of one of the main streets stretched their branches toward each other, making a lovely, tall, green tunnel. The streets were full of young faces of men and women, so many that an older person was barely noticeable. Although it was against the law, you could see so many young women wearing heavy makeup, nail polish and colorful, tight manteaus; and young men wore the latest European hairstyles and clothing. Their connections to fashion, and more generally to the outside world, came mostly through the more than 300 European and Asian TV channels available via satellite in almost every home. Although many international Web sites are blocked or filtered, software programs have been secretly invented and sold within the populace, allowing access to the blocked sites.

The price of food at restaurants, or uncooked meat and chicken at the supermarkets, was almost the same as what we pay here in the United States.  You could always hear people complaining about the inflation, but, surprisingly enough, the shops and expensive restaurants were packed with people. I also saw expensive and luxurious imported European and Japanese cars on streets; owners must have purchased the vehicles, including an added 100 percent import tax, because there is no such thing as leasing a car in Iran. 

Yet it is also clear that sanctions have added to people’s difficulties — one day, when I tried to simply access my PayPal account from an Internet cafe, an alert window popped up reading: “You are trying to access this account from a banned country.” And you could hear those fashionable kids debating and discussing political, philosophical and religious issues on streets, in coffee shops, in Internet cafes and at almost any gathering. Sadly, there were also stories of drugs and addiction. I was surprised to hear that even in the Jewish community, drug addiction has been an issue. 

The Jewish community of Iran, estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000, is mostly concentrated in Tehran. A few other big cities are home to Jewish families as well, but compared to the approximately 120,000 Jews who were living there before 1979, it’s a minuscule number. There remain quite a number of synagogues in Tehran, which were filled with people during the High Holy Days when my family visited. Several of my Jewish friends, whom I hadn’t seen for so long, were now married, had kids and, despite the political rumors, were trying to live their lives peacefully in their native country. 

Ten years away seemed quite long, and now some of the boys and girls I’d known during my years at Tehran’s Jewish student organization had become top authorities and leaders of the Iranian-Jewish community. My family got a chance to meet with two young Jewish artists, brothers who had moved from their hometown of Isfahan to go to art school in Tehran, and were now residing in a small unit attached to an old synagogue in the north of Tehran. Dana Nehdaran was a painter who had become known for his “Mona Lisa”-
inspired artworks; Dariush, his younger brother, was a photographer. 

We also visited an art gallery in a wealthy neighborhood of Tehran, where amazing paintings were priced as high as $20,000; we were told that the gallery was owned by an Iranian Jew in Los Angeles. Visiting my former work colleagues at Ettela’at, Iran’s premier print-media conglomerate, was another dream come true. I had worked there as a journalist for 10 years, from when I was only 16 until I left the country. On my return, I surprised my boss, entering his office with my husband and two kids. 

The Jewish day school where I spent almost all of my childhood school years was still the same, located just steps away from the University of Tehran. It still had the same old brick walls, the same old windows opening onto the street that we took any chance to peek at, and the same blue sign that reads: “Etefagh school complex.”

And finally, in the south part of the city, which consists mostly of low-income, traditional and religious citizens of Tehran, a huge building with a blue sign caught my eye. The sign reads: “Love your fellow as yourself,” in Hebrew and Farsi. This sign is on the entrance of the Sapir Hospital, a Jewish-funded hospital and charity center in Tehran founded more than 50 years ago that serves many low-income patients, free of charge, no matter what their religion.

My return to Tehran left me feeling proud, and rooted, as a Persian Jew.

Iranian Jews: The art, culture and history

Fifteen years of research leads to four-volume book on Holocaust—in Farsi

Ari Babaknia doesn’t expect that Iran’s president will ever read his four-volume series of Holocaust books written in the Farsi language.

But the author says he is confident that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows the books exists.

“I’ve done 10, 11 television interviews,” Babaknia said—interviews that are transmitted via satellite to Iran.

He has sent the four volumes, released in April, to three people in Iran who requested it via the website memorah.com.

The volumes are titled “Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” “America’s Response to the Holocaust,” “The World’s Response to the Holocaust” and “End of the Holocaust and Liberation of Nazi Camps and the Genocides of the Last 100 Years.”

Once the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and Babaknia’s family Memorah Foundation, which published the volumes, recoup what the author estimates at $70,000 to $80,000 in publishing costs, he plans to make the works available online for free.

Babaknia, an Iranian-born Jew who sits on the Wyman board, says the costs do not account for his time or the money he paid for researchers or designers.

A physician who completed medical school in Tehran, Babaknia arrived in the United States in 1974 to continue his education in women’s medical health and then infertility.

In the 1990s, he began his Holocaust research.

“More than 120 million speak or write Farsi in the world, and there never has been a well-researched or -documented book about the Holocaust in Farsi,” said Babaknia, 65, of Newport Beach, Calif.

However, Project Aladdin, a UNESCO-sponsored project that works to foster positive relations between Muslims and Jews and to combat Holocaust denial, does offer several books on the Holocaust in Farsi translation.

Babaknia said he initially expected to complete his research during a one-year sabbatical.

“One year was two or three years, then it was 15 years later,” said Babaknia, who explained that he kept finding himself with more questions to research.

The author views the Holocaust as a “human catastrophe.” The Jews were the victims, he says, but “we don’t own” the Holocaust.

In looking at the world’s response to the Holocaust, Babaknia notes that Jews remained safe in Iran.

“The most important thing to understand about Iran is that Iran has a virtually flawless record during the Holocaust,” said Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum. “When Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, he also denies the humanity of his own people.”

Berenbaum commended Babaknia for translating original documents and materials in a serious “attempt to educate those in the Iranian population who are interested in studying history instead of the fantasy that the Holocaust never happened.”

Liebe Geft, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which hosted a book launch party for Babaknia in April, praises the series as “a monumental work of enormous importance.”

“Put into the hands of young people today, academics,” Geft said, Babaknia’s books provide “an opportunity to learn, to understand, to encounter and perhaps even to transform.”

For downtown’s Persian Jews, work plus worship equals success

Fast-paced techno dance music blasts through Chikas, a retail clothing store off Santee Street in the heart of downtown Los Angeles’ Fashion District, which many call the Garment District. Robert Mahgerefteh, the store’s owner, helps the dozen or so young women looking for great deals on the latest fashions.

“Many of us from the Iranian-Jewish community working in the Garment District have a very hard work ethic, sometimes working six or seven days a week,” he said. “People like myself grew up seeing our dads and uncles put the time and effort into making their businesses a success, so we’re following in their footsteps.”

Mahgerefteh, 29, is among the more than 300 Iranian Jews who work as retailers, wholesalers or importers of clothing, fabrics and fashion accessories in downtown’s Fashion District. Over the last 30 years, their businesses and Iranian-Jewish investment in downtown real estate have helped transform the district into one of the major business hubs in Southern California.

In addition to improving the area, Iranian-Jewish businessmen have brought their faith and practice with them, establishing synagogues in the area and supporting several downtown kosher restaurants. Rabbis even travel to the Fashion District to teach Torah and other topics during lunch-and-learn sessions.

And while the flood of cheaper clothing and fabrics from China has driven some Iranian Jews out of the business, others have remained downtown, finding their niche in the new marketplace.

Following their immigration to Los Angeles from Iran, hundreds of Iranian Jews flocked to the Fashion District in the late 1970s and early 1980s, either because of their familiarity with the garment trade or because it seemed the easiest way to earn a living.

Iranian-Jewish real estate developer Behrooz Neman, who has owned properties in downtown’s Fashion District since the mid-1980s, said the area was in dire economic conditions when Iranian Jews first arrived.

“It looked like South Central with only old buildings and empty warehouses,” Neman said. “I can honestly say that if the Iranian Jews had never come to Los Angeles, there would be no Garment District as you see it today.”

Those Iranian Jews who first worked the Fashion District didn’t have the higher overhead costs of the larger American fabric companies, said Amir “Aby” Emrani, co-owner of Emday Fabrics.

“And, we also gave ourselves smaller commissions,” he said.

Today, Emday Fabrics and a handful of other Iranian-Jewish-owned businesses are among downtown’s largest and most successful fabrics importers, selling to both a national and international clientele.

“In the early days, we worked very hard and long hours — it was just myself, my brother and my father. … Little by little, the hard work and our ability to give much lower pricing to our customers allowed us to grow,” Emrani said.

Among the businesses that found a niche early was Donna Vinci, a division of Brasseur Inc., which specializes in plus-size women’s suits, among its other high-end women’s clothing.

“It was very successful for us, and we have continued over the years to build on that idea with many different designs and brands for the same customers,” said Danny Golshan, Donna Vinci’s co-owner. “Our focus is on being unique and bringing up-to-date clothing to our customers.”

With Hollywood not too far away, Iranian-Jewish-owned businesses such as the Italian Fashion Group have also supported the needs of costume designers for major television shows and films. The company, run by three Iranian- Jewish siblings, has become a top manufacturer of high-end, custom-made Italian suits that attract entertainment industry designers and celebrities such as Al Pacino, Terrence Howard and James Belushi.

“Our custom line of suits, Di Stefano, has become the pearl of our company,” said Shahrouz Stefano Kalepari, co-owner of the Italian Fashion Group, adding that their suits have appeared on such televisions shows as “The Mentalist,” “Castle,” “Law & Order: Los Angeles” and “The Defenders.”

“Our suits and shirts are 100 percent hand made and the patterns are designed from scratch for each individual order, to create a very personalized and custom fit for our customers. We use the most precious accessories such as horsehair canvas inside our suits, pure silk linings and mother-of-pearl buttons,” Kalepari said.

But with cheaper labor and raw material in China and the Far East flooding the Fashion District, Iranian-Jewish businesses have found it increasingly difficult to compete with Chinese goods.

Businessmen like Kalepari say they have had to be more aggressive in marketing their products and educating their customers about the higher quality of their clothing in order to survive.

“Unfair competition with China, combined with the lack of knowledge from some customers, makes it very frustrating at times,” Kalepari said. “But in the end, a high-quality product speaks for itself, and when a famous designer of top-quality clothes in Beverly Hills uses our company’s line for his own personal use, this gives us the utmost satisfaction that we have done the right thing and can survive in this market.”

Aside from the district’s retail and wholesale businesses, nearly 40 Iranian-Jewish real estate developers have purchased or constructed buildings and other properties over the years to further solidify the community’s influence in the area.

These Iranian-Jewish developers have not only upgraded the appearance of the stores and buildings in the area, but were pivotal in the creation and growth of the widely popular “alley” shopping area within the heart of the district — a nearly three-block stretch along Santee Street that resembles a Middle Eastern-style open bazaar.

“In the early 1980s, there was no alley in existence,” Neman said. “The idea to use the space in the alley area came from mostly Iranian Jewish developers who wanted to get the maximum use of their properties in the area by making these smaller spaces behind their buildings available for retailers.”

Not only have Iranian-Jewish businesses thrived and prospered in the fabrics and clothing industry, but city officials have praised the community’s entrepreneurial efforts during the last three decades of the Fashion District’s revitalization.

“The Persian community has helped to reshape the district by partnering with stakeholders in the area to form business development districts to keep the area safe and clean for business to thrive,” L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel said. “This community has been at the forefront of growth in the Garment District, and I am confident that the future will bring greater prosperity as downtown continues its transformation.”

The financial growth over the last 25 years alone in Southern California’s garment business speaks for itself.

“In 1984, California Mart in downtown’s Garment District did about $50 million in sales annually, which was for all the U.S. sales of garments on the West Coast,” Neman said. “Today the annual sales for the garment business in Southern California alone is $150 billion — and without a doubt it is because of the hard work of Iranian-Jewish- and Korean-owned businesses in downtown.”

Many local Iranian Jews also credit Ezat Delijani, one of the community’s most prominent real estate developers, who died in late August, for having transformed the area by pioneering mixed-use developments in downtown Los Angeles as well as for purchasing and renovating four historic theaters on Broadway near the Fashion District.

“The investment Ezat Delijani made in the historic area of Broadway brought new life to an area that was stricken with graffiti and blight,” said David Rahimian, a former special assistant to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “The Delijani family led a preservation effort that brought the theater back to life, not only making it a jewel on Broadway but a proud site for all Angelenos to enjoy.”

With all of their financial success, Iranian- Jewish businessmen in the area have still maintained their strong Jewish bonds in the district, even establishing three synagogues in the area.

Ohr HaShalom, also called the Downtown Synagogue, is perhaps the most popular synagogue in the Fashion District. Located inside a 300-square-foot storefront, it attracts up to 30 Iranian-Jewish businessmen for daily prayers.

“It’s more convenient for businessmen from our community to come to the synagogue that is close to their businesses in the area in order to do their early morning prayers or to say the Kaddish prayers on the anniversary of the deaths of their loved ones,” said Abner Cohen, a fabrics businessman and co-founder of Ohr HaShalom.

The other two synagogues in the area are located within the offices of Iranian-Jewish businesses, housing Torahs as well as other prayer books. Yet the business owners operating these office synagogues would not grant The Jewish Journal entry out of concern that the publicity could attract unwanted security challenges.

In addition to the synagogues, a handful of local rabbis frequent the different Iranian-Jewish-owned businesses in the Fashion District, providing free lunchtime classes on Torah and religious practices.

“We love teaching Judaism, and we offer these businessmen insights on how they could benefit from Torah in their everyday lives to become better fathers, better partners and better community members,” said Rabbi Yosef Shemtov, executive director of the Yachad Outreach Center, which is affiliated with the Pico-Robertson-based Torat Hayim synagogue.

Over the course of each week, Shemtov and two other Iranian Jewish rabbis from his group visit more than 50 Iranian-Jewish businesses in downtown’s fashion and jewelry districts. Their group began the teaching program for Iranian Jews working in downtown Los Angeles eight years ago and, Shemtov said, it has gradually grown in popularity.

Kosher restaurants in recent years have also popped up the Fashion District, including Snack 26 deli, offering sandwiches to Iranian-Jewish businessmen on the run, and Afshan Restaurant, providing customers with kosher chicken and beef kebabs as well as popular Persian stews and rice dishes. Both eateries also deliver to their clients downtown.

With all of the ups and downs in their businesses, Iranian Jews working in the Fashion District said their strong sense of spirituality and Jewish values have enabled them to continue working hard to achieve success in the fashion industry.

Shervin Arastoozad, an Iranian-Jewish designer and owner of Cut n’ Paste Handbags, says the one thing he’s learned about business is that you must build a foundation to get anywhere.

“One very important foundation for me has been Judaism and the morality it brings into [my] business and everyday life,” he said.

For more interviews with Iranian-Jewish businessmen in downtown’s Fashion District, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

‘Shoah’ playing in Iran

The Holocaust documentary “Shoah” is being broadcast in Iran.

The 1985 documentary by French director Claude Lanzmann was scheduled to be presented this week on a satellite channel and is dubbed in Farsi. Satellites are banned in Iran, but many Iranians have them and therefore could watch the film, which includes survivor testimony.

The broadcast is sponsored by the Aladdin Project, an independent, international nongovernmental organization based in Paris dedicated to promoting intercultural relations, particularly among Jews and Muslims.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly denied the Holocaust on several occasions.

The film also has been dubbed into Arabic and Turkish and will be screened in Turkey next month, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Yad Vashem launches Farsi YouTube chanel

Yad Vashem has launched a YouTube channel in Farsi and an expanded version of its Farsi website.

The Farsi YouTube channel launched Sunday contains survivor testimonies, archival footage and mini-lectures by Holocaust historians on topics such as contemporary anti-Semitism, and what makes the Holocaust a unique historical event.

The comprehensive new website includes a chronological and thematic narrative about the Holocaust with related video, photos, documents and artifacts; frequently asked questions about the Holocaust; a lexicon of terms; online exhibitions including a multimedia presentation of the Auschwitz Album in Farsi; and stories of Righteous Among the Nations. 

Addressing viewers on the YouTube channel, Israeli President Shimon Peres encourages visitors to the site.

“History is rich in events, but there is one event that is exceptional, which is a watershed. That is the Holocaust, when a cultured nation in an organized manner killed 6 million people because they were Jews, including a million-and-a-half babies and children,” Peres says. “What we suggest is that each of you will see the material, which is based on records and on photos, to understand what happened, and also to be able to tell your own children to beware, not to let history fall again to such a depth, to such shame,” he said.

“One of our primary goals is to make credible information about the Holocaust accessible to as wide an audience as possible,” said Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem. “Today, when there is so much disinformation and distortion easily available online, we provide an alternative to anyone who is interested in the truth.”

Yad Vashem’s website and YouTube Channel are available in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Farsi.

IRANIAN ELECTION ANALYSIS: All Iran candidates will bolster Hamas, Hezbollah ties

One winner has already been declared in the Iranian elections: The Internet, used by more than 23 million Iranians, or 34 percent of the population. But that figure alone cannot be used to determine which of the four candidates will win. At the very most, one can assume most Web users will vote for reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mohsen Rezeai.

Although the presidential race is based mostly on the individual skills of the candidates, their agendas and public record are no less important. The candidates have almost insignificant differences on issues of core interest to the West and Israel. All of the candidates have said they are willing to hold a dialogue with the U.S., but say it would be gradual and depend on U.S. policy. Even Ahmadinejad has expressed his willingness to talk to the U.S. Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.