Fewer than 30,000 Jews live in Iran today, compared with more than 100,000 in the 1970s, but besides a mass exodus after Iran’s 1979 revolution and the founding of the Islamic republic, their numbers have remained consistent, and they constitute the largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel.
A recent State Department report on religious freedoms around the world said of Iran that anti-
Semitic rhetoric by some government officials has resulted in a “hostile environment for the Jewish community,” but barring “some exceptions, there was little government restriction of, or interference with, Jewish religious practice. However, the Jewish community experienced official discrimination.”
Those incidents have mostly involved difficulties securing government jobs or gaining entry to state-run universities, but Jews here insist that they practice their religion openly and are free to leave and that those who remain do so because they want to, not because they must.
Some Jews who have left, immigrating mostly to the United States or Israel, report being pressured to convert to Islam or otherwise harassed, and many who remain complain about an inability to see relatives living overseas, especially those in Israel.
Several Jewish activists were executed in the early days of Iran’s revolution. And there have been several instances of Iranian Jews arrested on charges of spying for Israel, but such cases have become increasingly rare.
Chafing at Netanyahu’s words
Members of Iran’s Jewish community say allegations by Israel, such as recent claims of a
foiled Iranian terrorism plot
in Tel Aviv and ongoing accusations that Iran is building a nuclear weapon for use against Israel, distort the Islamic republic’s relationship with Judaism and its own Jewish population.
Netanyahu’s warnings, coupled with ongoing questions about whether the Islamic republic officially recognizes the Holocaust, have cast a negative light on Iran just days after a historic phone call between the country’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and President Obama signaled the start of a new era in relations between Tehran and Washington.
Israeli leaders deeply oppose any thaw in the U.S.-Iranian relationship, but Jews here, along with most Iranians, believe that restored ties with the United States could lead to an easing of the international sanctions imposed on the country over allegations that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
The chairman of Iran’s Jewish Association, Homayun Sameyah, said in an interview that the Rosh Hashanah greetings that Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posted on Facebook and Twitter last month reflected a friendlier approach to Jews everywhere on the part of Iran’s leaders. He drew a contrast between Rouhani and his more confrontational predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.