April 2, 2020

U.S. Special Iran Rep. Embraced by Iranian Jews at Sinai Temple

Brian Hook, a U.S. special representative for Iran, appears in a recent discussion at Sinai Temple with Sinai Rabbi David Wolpe (left). Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple.

Four days after the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a United States targeted airstrike in Baghdad, the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, took part in a public forum at Sinai Temple with Senior Rabbi David Wolpe.

The event was scheduled before the attack on Soleimani and was organized by Sinai Temple, the Eretz Synagogue Cultural Center, the Sinai Temple Men’s Club, the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, and the Iranian American Jewish Federation,

Hundreds of people turned out to the Jan. 7 evening discussion, during which Hook called on Iran to act like a “normal nation” and end its “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East. “Iranians thrive all over the world except [in] Iran,” he said. 

Defending President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani, Hook said, “It was not an assassination. An assassination by definition is an unlawful killing for political purposes. This was lawful and it was not political. I’ve had to educate the press on the definition of ‘assassination.’ ” 

He received a standing ovation from the largely Iranian Jewish audience, which cheered when Hook called the decision to take out Soleimani a “decisive action to defend American lives and prevent further bloodshed.” And when he vowed that the U.S. would never let Iran develop a nuclear weapon, the audience applauded.

Among the attendees was attorney Sam Yebri, who was a child when his family left Iran in 1983 as part of an “exodus of Jews who fled with organizations like HIAS [formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] and under the grace of America’s asylum laws at the time,” he told the Journal later in a phone interview.

Yebri, president of the board of 30 Years After, an organization that promotes civic engagement among Iranian American Jews, said, “I was surprised the U.S. took [Soleimani] out because so many prior governments [calculated] the benefits might not have been worth the costs, but he is not just another general. He is the mastermind, the spoke that links all arms of Iranian support for terrorism and murder throughout the world.” 

 “The Trump administration will not play by the Iran regime’s rules.” — Brian Hook 

Hook also discussed Trump’s pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal signed by former President Barack Obama and the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran. He spoke of the decline in Iran’s oil exports as a result of the sanctions and pointed to other examples of Iran’s economy crumbling during Trump’s presidency. The time for appeasing Iran — a country that has antagonized the U.S. and called for the destruction of the State of Israel — was over, Hook said. “The Trump administration will not play by the Iran regime’s rules.” 

Hook also brought greetings from his boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and spoke of the important contributions the Iranian Jewish community has made to the country. He asked the community to “lean in” to its support for the administration’s policies toward Iran. 

Wolpe asked Hook to compare Iran and North Korea. Hook said one of the chief differences is that the North Korea is a hermit kingdom while Iran seeks to spread its influence throughout the Middle East.

Audience members had the opportunity to write questions for Hook on cards, which were then handed to Wolpe. He said, “The vast majority of questions are for regime change. … Can you do that for us?” 

“That is something that will be decided by the Iranian people,” Hook said.

Wolpe also asked Hook about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel under the Trump administration. 

“It’s just never been better,” Hook said, citing the relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. “The Israeli people have never had a better friend than this president.”