September 17, 2019

The fate of Iran’s Jews in 2011?

Frank Nikbakht, Iranian Jewish activist and head head of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran, photo by Karmel Melamed.


Since demonstrations and political upheaval enveloped Iran last week just as in 2009, again worldwide Jewry and particularly thousands of Iranian Jews living in Southern California have been concerned about the safety of some 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still living in Iran today. My piece in this week’s Jewish Journal sheds light on the dangers the Jews of Iran are living with an recent threats certain Iranian militia forces have made to destroy the tombs of the Esther and Mordechai, the heros of Purim.

I recently spoke with Frank Nikbakht an Iranian Jewish activist in Los Angeles and head of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran concerning the current status of Jews in Iran and the unrest in that country. Nikbakht is perhaps one of a handful of Iranian Jewish experts in the U.S. and worldwide who closely follow and research the actions of Iran’s radical Islamic government towards Jews and other religious minorities in Iran. His documented research has been used by U.S. government officials in the State Department and by other prominent community leaders to shed light on the Iranian regime’s behavior towards Jews, Christians, Bahais still living in that country.

The following is a segment of my latest interview with Nikbakht about the recent developments in Iran…

How safe is the Jewish community in Iran during violent crack down on demonstrators in Iran?

The Jewish community in Iran, being considered as a sort of hostage population may be facing new pressures soon, even though they were not involved at all with the demonstrations. This is because of the repeat of the now famous street chants of “neither Gaza, nor Lebanon— Tunisia, Egypt and Iran” and it ends with “my is life dedicated only to Iran”. This was chanted on the Quds day of 2009 by regime opponents. Now the paranoid Iranian regime thinking Israel had a hand in the riots, may pressure the Jewish community to stage pro-Palestinian and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, issue statements and hold rallies, like in 2009. The regime may, may make certain arrests connected with Israeli sensitivities or by reviving the Islamo-Nazi threats as was the calls for the destruction of Esther’s Shrine in the Western city of Hamedan.

Why are Jews such a target for different forces in Iran during times of turmoil?

Small minorities and in particular hated minorities such as Jews are always in danger of being wiped out. In times of turmoil, war and revolution are the most dangerous because not only may a Nazi-like government such as the Islamic Republic of Iran decide to use its Jewish hostages for deterrence or revenge— but smaller groups of fanatics within the society or the armed forces may decide to do something themselves during a chaotic situation.

How is the Iranian regime different from the Mubarak regime as far as cracking down hard on protestors and clamping down on the telecommunications/internet? And how much more difficult will it be for the “people” to bring down the Iranian regime with their demonstrations?

This is like comparing apples and oranges. The Egyptian regime under Mubarak was perhaps a typical military dictatorship whereas the Iranian regime is a Theocratic one.

Whereas there may have been slightly more people killed in Egypt during their two week long uprising compared with a similar period in the Iranian events of 2009 or February 2011, there are several notable differences, namely the Islamic regime in Iran would go after, target, arrest or even assassinate the family members of street activists or even kill bystanders to spread terror among the whole population. In Iran tens of thousands were arrested even for chanting “Allahu Akbar” from their roofs and thousands were so severely tortured that their stories shocked the new generation who had no direct experience with the Islamic authorities.

Also in Iran, the government forces had almost a free hand in continuing the suppression or prevention of the demonstrations. Whereas in Egypt the main government instruments of force, such as the army, the intelligence and the police, were heavily prone to American pressures not to act against street demonstrations (as the Iranian Army was during the Shah) and even pressured Mubarak to leave. In terms of shutting down hi-tech communications, the Iranian government is much more capable. It must be added that following an initial interest by CNN and some other American media in 2009, they all reduced covering Iranian events that year as soon as Obama lost interest.

In 2009 there was criticism by Iranian Americans and others of the Obama administration failing to clearly voice show the Iranian people’s desire for freedom and true democracy in their country. What in your opinion has been the administrations biggest failure on the Iran issue?

In my opinion, the administration’s biggest failure is their self deluding belief that the Islamic Regime in Iran, is just another dictatorship. Iran is a theocratic dictatorship with no mercy and no consideration for people if they are against God’s government (as they call themselves) and its armed forces cannot be re-tasked or neutralized by American pressures. Successful “velvet” revolutions organized or supported by the US, have either succeeded in countries whose regime had already been dismantled— such as the old Soviet block, or whose regime and country had been destroyed by extreme violence—as the case with NATO having destroyed and fragmented Yugoslavia, or in places where their armed forces were loyal to America and thus easily frozen in place.

Why does the regime continue to use Israel and the U.S. as a scapegoat for the demonstrations and unrest in Iran and what purpose does it serve?

The regime is trying to keep its own supporters within the society, agitated and loyal. This tactic is still effective among millions of fanatics or obedient Allah fearing population but not among millions of regime opponents or liberal Muslims who are slowly learning that LIES are the main weapon of the regime for its survival.

What is the likelihood of successful regime change this time around in Iran from the “rioting”? Can it effectively snowball, or is this a doomed cause where thousands will be slaughtered by the regime?

This “rioting” has not yet developed into an “uprising”. Therefore there should be no rational expectations for any major accomplishments. The tactics associated with these “riots” are hit and run and therefore there will not be massive slaughter. However, what remains is the still irreconcilable conflict between regime factions, massive western pressures on the regime and a huge undercurrent of popular discontent, intensified by a run away inflation and unsustainable economic situation. Taken together, sometime soon, the regime will crack open.