As Iran continues a policy of delay and division in the face of international concern about its nuclear weapons program, it is time for the Obama administration to reconsider one element of its strategy. That would be to find ways to support a growing movement within Iran that rejects the repressive rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the entrenched fundamentalist clerics in power.
As we have said before, there are no easy answers as Iran moves ever closer to the nuclear threshold.
It was 8:15 on Saturday morning, and Rabbis Shmuel Fuerst and Moshe Unger of Chicago were dressed in their Sabbath best: beaver-pelt shtreimels, or Polish-style hats on their heads; long black silk caftans draping their bodies; and thin white socks over their black knickers.
But last Saturday morning, these two bearded, ultra-traditional Orthodox Jews were not walking to synagogue on the city's heavily white North Side; they were riding in a car driven by a non-Jewish friend to meet the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the city's mostly black South Side.
Even as efforts continue to gain freedom for 13 Iranian Jews jailed by their government on suspicion of spying, new information is surfacing about 11 other Jews who vanished while attempting to flee Iran illegally between 1994 and 1997.
The information, some of which emerged at a public meeting in Los Angeles last month, is threatening to further fracture an Iranian Jewish community in the United States caught between the impulse to protest, and to stick to silent diplomacy in its efforts to help imperiled brethren.
Just outside the city of Shiraz, in Iran’s stark and arid south, lies the gravesite of Cyrus the Great, founder of the first empire in human history to declare religious tolerance for all its peoples. Cyrus, acclaimed in the Bible for allowing the Jews exiled by Babylonia to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple in 538 BCE, lies in an unadorned and simple stone tomb, a reflection, historians say, of the man’s humble character.
At the urging of leaders in the Iranian Jewish community here, American Jewish leaders this week suspended their public campaign calling for the release of 13 Jews accused of espionage in Iran.
Instead, they are beginning to implicitly acknowledge the inevitability of a trial for the 13 by shifting their demands to the legal arena.
The organized American Jewish community will soon “reassess” its policy of public restraint toward Iran if Tehran does not move toward freeing 13 Iranian Jews imprisoned on suspicion of espionage, a Jewish leader active on the issue said Monday.
“There must just be some point where we make a judgment [that] it’s time to reconsider,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
When Tehran police handcuffed Sepehr Ebn Yamin last Sunday and hauled him off to jail in connection with a business dispute, the 45-year-old Iranian Jew’s health was already less than hearty: Just two weeks earlier he had suffered a minor heart attack.
By last Monday, Ebn Yamin was dead. And his family in Los Angeles is charging Tehran police with willful negligence of his cries for medical help.
Implicitly rebutting several senior government authorities, the Central Jewish Committee of Iran last week publicly asserted for the first time that 13 Iranian Jews currently imprisoned on suspicion of spying for Israel and the United States are innocent.
Putting its own resources on the line, the committee, which serves as the umbrella group for Iran’s 25,000 Jews, also announced it was prepared to raise money for attorneys to defend the imprisoned Jews.
A wave of protests and counter-protests across Iran this week has swept the fate of 13 Jews jailed there for espionage into a far corner of the country’s concern.
One of Iran’s more controversial international issues last week, the Jews’ fate shriveled in importance for Iranian leaders as their deep, longstanding internal conflicts flared into open battle between respective supporters in the streets of Tehran and other major cities.
A longstanding power struggle between Iran’s top leaders crystallized this week over the legal system that will decide the fate of 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel and America.
Offering the first specifics on the case against them, Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that the 13 were arrested “on charges of illegally gathering secret information, including military information, and handing it over to foreigners.”