TEHRAN, Iran – Nothing in the office of Iran’s sole Jewish lawmaker calls attention to his faith “” no Star of David, no menorah or other symbol of Judaism. But like nearly every public building in Iran, it has a portrait of the Islamic Revolution’s
patriarch, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Moris Motamed’s political headquarters highlight the well-practiced survival skills of Iran’s remaining 25,000 Jews “” caught again in a political no man’s land by the fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Any public expression of sympathy for Israel would invite a sharp crackdown from authorities and hard-line Islamic groups.
“We are Iranians. We work for what’s best for Iran. The fighting, fortunately, does not affect the Jewish community in Iran,” said Motamed, who holds the single parliament seat reserved for Jews. Other seats are set aside for the Christian Armenian and Assyrian minorities and followers of Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith.
The State Department’s 2005 International Religious Freedom Report notes:
The Government’s anti‑Israel policies, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens support Zionism and the state of Israel, create a hostile atmosphere for the small community. For example, during the reporting period, many newspapers celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the anti-Semitic publication “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Mr. Motamed is apparently feeling the additional pressure of the ongoing conflict in painting a rosier picture of Jewish life in Iran, as he registered complaints in the 2005 report:
On April 13, Representative Maurice Motamed, who represents Jews in the Majlis, complained that Iran’s state television was broadcasting anti-Semitic programs. According to the press, Motamed claimed that “insulting Jews and attributing false things to them in television serials over the past 12 years has not only hurt the feelings of the Jewish community but has also led to the emigration of a considerable percentage of the Jewish community.” Motamed also claimed that repeated complaints about this problem have not had the desired effect.
The article continues:
But Iran’s Jews have undeniable bonds with Israel “” most notably Israel’s Iranian-born president, Moshe Katsav. Thousands of Iranian Jewish families have relatives in Israel. The historical links between Persia and the Holy Land go back to antiquity and are celebrated each year with the festival of Purim.
In January, the leader of Iran’s Jewish community, Haroun Yashayaei, issued a rare challenge to Islamic authorities after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a “myth.” He said Ahmadinejad was questioning “one of the most obvious and saddening incidents in human history.”
Israel, however, presents a red line no one will cross. Iran’s Jews have remain publicly silent as Iranian leaders have called for Israel’s destruction, including Ahmadinejad’s call last year for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”
Last week, Jews in the southern city of Shiraz held a pro-Hezbollah rally that was covered by state-run television “” a sign that the march was likely overseen by the Islamic regime to reinforce the idea of national solidarity.
The Web site of the Tehran Jewish Community includes statements opposing Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip and praising uranium enrichment by Iranian scientists. The U.S. and many of its allies, including Israel, believe Iran is using its nuclear reactor project as a cover for a weapons program.
“For Iranians, there is a distinction in their mind between Zionism and Judaism,” said Motamed. “This is a very important distinction for us.”