As debates over the Iran nuclear agreement continue to heat up, stirring deep emotions and volatile reactions, the perspectives and opinions of Iranian American Jews need to be heard. These people, whose ancestors lived continuously in the Middle East for over 2,500 years, have deep concerns, which is why they oppose the nuclear deal. They know firsthand how cruel the current regime is, and we should listen to them.
Karmel Melamed, an Iranian-born JIMENA speaker and award-winning international journalist, seems to sum up the sentiments of many Iranian American Jews. “The nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is very disturbing for Iranian American Jews like myself,” he wrote, “because our families experienced first hand the sheer evil as well as random terror of anti-Semitism carried out by this Iranian regime for more than 35 years.”
Deeply concerned that the lifting of sanctions will have grave consequences, he continued: “We [Iranian American Jews] shudder at the thought of what chaos and destruction this regime will unleash on Jews, Christians and others worldwide who they consider ‘infidels,’ through their terror proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, once the regime is infused with $150 billion of their frozen assets after this deal is approved by Congress.”
The mistrust, anger and extremely negative sentiments of Iranian American Jews toward the regime, in the context of the nuclear agreement and beyond, are justified. Iranian Jews compose an ancient, culturally rich community that was subjected to severe human rights abuses by a regime that continues to treat them as second-class citizens. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, 90 percent of Iran’s Jews fled, often under duress with just the shirts on their backs. JIMENA has interviewed Iranian American Jews who risked their lives by illegally escaping through treacherous deserts to become homeless refugees in Pakistan. This story is not uncommon. We’ve interviewed individuals whose family members were executed by the Revolutionary Guards simply for asserting their Jewishness and their right to their property. Despite the regime’s publicity-minded efforts to showcase themselves as a government that is tolerant of its Jewish citizens, JIMENA’s Iranian members continue to share stories of the discrimination, dispossession, torture and murder of Jews simply because of their faith.
George Haroonian, an prominent Iranian Jewish activist and friend of JIMENA, told me: “This regime, no matter how the personalities are branded as conservative or moderate or radical, has hegemonic plans for the Middle East and the world. … All agreements are only steps in achieving their long-term goal.”
Some of JIMENA’s Iranian members take a nuanced view of the nuclear agreement, but remain critical of the regime’s dismal human rights record. However, Elliott Benjamin, JIMENA advisory board member and Iranian American Jewish communal leader, expresses the opinion that seems to be shared by the majority of our membership: “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran deal, is a catastrophic mistake of historic proportions. It does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; it merely delays their ability to do so, if they abide by the terms of the deal, which based on past experiences is unlikely. Meanwhile, Iran gets relief from the very mechanism that brought it to the negotiating table in the first place, the sanctions imposed by the West. The tyrannical regime in Iran will be legitimized and will have more resources to continue sponsoring terrorism throughout the world, destabilizing the region and [oppressing] its own citizens.”
It is foolish for us liberal Americans to question and minimize the Iranian regime’s stated sentiments and intentions. When the regime mocks the Holocaust by supporting the “International Holocaust Cartoon Competition,” when the Revolutionary Guard stifles dissent by killing young Iranian street protestors calling for progress and change, when the regime remains one of the biggest jailers in the world of journalists and activists —including Marin native Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post Iran bureau chief — and when the country’s leaders repeatedly call for the annihilation of Israel and death to America, the writing is on the wall, and we need to listen.
For these reasons, and so many more, JIMENA members echo the following: How can we have a good deal with bad people whom we all recognize as untrustworthy?
Sarah Levin is executive director of JIMENA, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, an information and advocacy nonprofit based in San Francisco