Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Iranian Jews Settle in Israel

CNN reports on a cluster of Iranian Jews who have just moved to Israel -- the largest group in recent memory. Many have family members already in Israel -- some of whom they haven't seen in years. At least as the story reports it, they are quite glad to have made the move.

The Jewish community in Iran is the most vibrant in the Middle East (excluding Israel, obviously), and is actually treated fairly well. But there have been some reports of discrimination, and the community is definitely nervous about President Ahmadinejad's increasingly strident and hard-line stance against Israel, which they think runs a serious risk of a domestic backlash against Iranian Jews.

On the one hand, these people are my sisters and brothers, and I want them to feel secure wherever they live. And, more than anything else, isn't that Israel's purpose? To provide a haven for Jews who don't feel safe in their land of birth? So in that sense, I am happy that they are in a place where they don't have to look over their shoulders for being Jewish.

But at the same time, it's disheartening why they felt they had to move. There are, to be sure, many good reasons as a Jew to move to Israel. Personal security is definitely one, but it should not have to be. Security aside, I am glad there is an Israel -- a place where Jews are the norm and not the margin, a place where we're in control of our own destiny. But yet, I don't want to move there. I prefer to make my contributions in America, because I think I and my people have something to add to our delightful cultural mosaic. And I wish that other countries recognized that too. Some countries (albeit usually inartfully) say they specifically want Jews to move there. I want us to be wanted. I want us to contribute to the flourishing of Israel, and the US, and France, and Japan, and yes, Iran. So even though I support the right of any Jew to emigrate to Israel, for any reason, at some level I want to maintain the diaspora as well.


Cycle Cyril said...

You understate the level of discrimination against Jews in Iran under Sharia.

There are significant restrictions on leaving, practicing Judaism and earning a living. This is why out of an estimated population of 120K under the Shah (who eliminated Sharia) only 20-30K remain. A number may remain because it is home to them but that unfortunately is not uncommon in any oppressed group.

"...it should not have to be."

You are right. It should not have to be. But why are you not asking the question "Why is it so?" among other questions, including why did it change when Khomeini instituted Sharia?

Many of the answers (of course they are politically incorrect) can be found at this site by the author of this book.

PG said...

"A number may remain because it is home to them but that unfortunately is not uncommon in any oppressed group."

Depends on the severity of oppression and the alternatives to it. Hindus are heavily oppressed in Pakistan; even of those who did not leave at Partition, many left as Pakistan became increasingly hostile to Hindus. They have gone from making up about 15% to less than 2% of the population. Leaving for a friendlier place was fairly easy as long as a war was not actually in progress; one just had to cross into India. Aside from a natural attachment to home, there is little to make Hindus stay in Pakistan. Those who have stayed are mostly peasants with an attachment to land, who lack skills and money to make their way after immigration.
In contrast, although Muslims are oppressed in many ways in India -- particularly in states like Gujarat where Hindu supremacists hold power -- it is not sufficient oppression to make many of them leave for Pakistan. Though some go to the Middle East for economic opportunities, they are not allowed to immigrate but instead leave their families in India and send them money. Especially now, India's economic growth makes it a better option than Pakistan even with the oppression. Indian law allows Muslims freedom of religion and even has special family and inheritance law based on religion.

When you say someone is being discriminated against, the question is whether they are treated like others or are treated differently in a negative way. In some respects, Iran treats Jews worse than Muslims, e.g. suspecting all of them to be spies for Israel. In some ways, Iran gives Jews a few exceptions from generally applicable laws; for example, Jews are allowed to have opposite sex dancing at weddings and alcohol for religious purposes, both of which would be crimes for a Muslim. However, they are required to attend school on their sabbath day.

Lots of Iranians, including Muslims, find the current regime intolerable. The number of Iranian applicants for asylum to Germany alone, 1994-2005, is larger than the whole Jewish population of Iran.

Unlike the poor Hindus who remain in Pakistan, Jews who remain in Iran certainly could get a decent start in Israel. Even given an inviting alternative, however, many chose to stay until recently. Therefore David's perspective of thinking about what has changed to precipitate this new wave of emigration is more useful than rehashing sharia law that has existed since the revolution, concurrent with Iran's constitutional protection for Jews. Between the creation of Israel and the Revolution, about 45,000 Iranian Jews emigrated to Israel. In 1986, there were an estimated 50,000 Jews in Iran, as opposed to the estimated 25,000 today, so evidently something changed even after the Revolution's effect halved the Iranian Jewish population, either to make it more imperative to get out or has made it easier to do so. Indeed, although the Jews who are safely out of the country say they are alarmed by Ahmadinejad, the fact that they *could* get out may signal that some restrictions on emigration are being relaxed, albeit perhaps in an effort to rid Iran of its Jewish population without doing anything that would bring military action from Israel or the U.S.

Cycle Cyril said...

To understand why Jews left and are leaving Iran since the Islamic take over in 1979 you must understand and know the Quran and Sharia and the fact that the Iranian constitution is subordinate to the Quran/Sharia. And I do not mean a superficial, "feel-good" understanding of the Quran.

As for "constitutional protection" it is essentially a restatement of Dhimmi status for everyone but Moslems. It involves extra taxes, to be made servile and separate.