Local Iranian-Americans respond to nuclear deal

After the announcement July 14 that the United States and other world powers had reached an agreement with Iran that calls for limits on Iran’s nuclear program, Los Angeles-area Iranian Americans of various faiths expressed pessimism at the outcome and disappointment with the negotiated deal.

Many local Iranian-Jewish activists said they have long opposed the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with the Iranian regime, and they see the current nuclear agreement as strengthening Iran’s ability to spread hostility in the Middle East.

“This deal will legitimize a regime that is known to be deeply corrupt, is a world-leading state sponsor of terrorism, has been suppressing its own people and destabilizing its neighbors,” Sam Kermanian, an adviser to the Iranian American Jewish Federation, based in West Hollywood, said Tuesday. “It leaves the decision for developing nuclear arms entirely in the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which will lead to [nuclear] proliferation, further instability and conflict.”

Southern California is home to approximately half a million Iranian Americans and nearly 45,000 Iranian Jews, the majority of whom fled or emigrated from Iran after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. 

Not all Iranian Americans opposed the negotiations at their start, according to Sam Yebri, an attorney and co-founder of 30 Years After, an organization created to engage a younger generation of Jewish Iranian Americans. “Most Iranian Americans welcomed these negotiations at the outset as providing a glimmer of hope that Iran was willing to change its ways as the West was prepared to use its leverage as robustly as possible. Those of us who understand or lived under the Islamic Republic of Iran, we sensed an opportunity, an opening for change,” he said. Yet, “This deal closed the door on any opportunity to transform Iran for the better.”

Yebri added, “The only beneficiaries of this deal will be Iran and its allies Hezbollah and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and the Russians.”

Many Iranian-Jewish leaders in Los Angeles have long been hesitant to criticize the current Iranian regime for fear of reprisals by the Iranian regime against the nearly 10,000 Jews still living in Iran. Nevertheless, some activists in the local Iranian Jewish community have been very vocal in their efforts to educate Americans about the dangerous nature of the Iranian regime. Some of those expressed concern that the community had not advocated strongly enough against any deal with the Iranians.

“I, for one, blame us, as the Persian-Jewish community, for not being more vocal about these issues of Iran,” Simon Etehad, an Iranian-Jewish attorney and L.A.-area activist, said Tuesday. “We know the politics and goals of the Iranian regime, yet we put our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is fine and dandy — well, it is far from that.”

Frank Nikbakht, a leader of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the current Iran nuclear deal will embolden the Iranian regime through newfound economic relief in the lifting of sanctions, despite the regime’s heinous human-rights record against the people of Iran.

“Internally, with all the inequalities and atrocities remaining in place, this agreement enhances the regime’s legitimacy, wealth and dictatorial power over a people who will have to deal with an imminent inflationary economy, a higher degree of ruling-class arrogance and a financial corruption surpassing even today’s incredible levels,” Nikbakht said.

David Nahai, an Iranian-American Jewish community member and former L.A. Department of Water and Power chief, said, “If there ever was a deal in history that required robust scrutiny because of the unimaginable consequences of getting things wrong, it is this one. For that reason, I commend the president for seeking congressional approval of this deal … because we can be looking at 100 pages of snakes in the grass here, and we owe it to posterity to have a thorough examination of all the repercussions that are being proposed.

“Having said that,” Nahai added, “I do believe there is a time in every deal where even though one has not attained perfection, one has brought things to a sufficient level to … go forward.” 

Among those criticizing the deal were many non-Jewish, Iranian-American political activists, some citing the negotiators’ failure to use this agreement to help the average people inside Iran who oppose the current regime.

“And what happened to human rights in all of this?” Roxana Ganji, an L.A.-area, non-Jewish Iranian political activist. “I was born supposedly as a Shiite Muslim, and as far as I know, this regime has no mercy for any religious groups. Muslims are arrested, tortured, hung and stoned. Baha’is are banned from school or practicing their religion, and they are also imprisoned. Jewish people and Armenians are arrested; this regime has no respect for anyone’s rights but their own!”

Local Iranian Americans pointed to the gradual removal of sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which primarily advances the regime’s terrorist activists in the Middle East, as the most egregious element of the agreement. 

“As we know, if many of the IRGC companies and high-ranking members who are under sanctions now get relief from the sanctions, then who will be responsible for the IRGC’s future crimes against humanity?” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, an L.A.-based Iranian activist who heads the Marze Por Gohar Iranian opposition party. “What will be the world’s response to the IRGC’s first international terrorist action after sanction relief?”

Farahanipour also pointed to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s statement after the nuclear agreement as evidence of its ties to terrorism: “Today, Rouhani congratulated not only the Iranian people, but also the people of Gaza, Lebanon, the West Bank, Jordan and Palestinians in the Quds (Jerusalem) on his nuclear deal announcement, which only proves that the regime has intentions to spread its terrorism to other areas of the Middle East now that the sanctions will be removed,” Farahanipour said.

Other local Iranian-Jewish activists familiar with the radical anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime charged that the new nuclear agreement will embolden the regime’s hostilities toward Israel through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as encourage the Iranian regime to advance terrorism elsewhere.

“What is clear to me as someone who was born and raised in Iran, and has observed its political evolution, is that an agreement with a regime whose intention is hegemony of the region, destruction of the homeland for Jewish people and support for radical Islamic groups is a grave mistake,” said George Haroonian, an L.A. Iranian-Jewish activist and board member of the Iranian Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. “I expect a steep rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hysteria.”

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls for comment.

Jewish Journal staff writer Ryan Torok contributed to this report.

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