A few members of the Jewish community during a ceremony in Iran

Leaders Advise Iranian Jews To Maintain Low Profile For Rosh Hashanah

Monday, 09/11/2023

The one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder coincides with the Jewish New Year on September 16, prompting community leaders to warn Jews to stay off the streets.

In a Telegram posting from Iran’s Jewish community on Sunday, the leadership wrote “All worshipers are strongly requested to refrain from stopping and gathering in the streets for any reason during Rosh Hashanah and after performing religious duties in synagogues.”

Alireza Nader, an Iran scholar based in Washington, DC, told Iran International, “The remaining few members of the Jewish community in Iran live in constant fear. Any sort of public pronouncement or guidance from their leadership should be seen in light of the community’s extreme vulnerability.” Nader has written about the persecution of Iranian Jews.

Beni Sabti, an expert on Iran from the Israeli National Security and Strategy Institute, who first located the Telegram post, told Iran International that the Jewish leadership is “worried that Jews can be in trouble if they stay in the streets” and urged them “to rapidly go from the synagogues to their houses.”

Sabti is a Tehran-born Jew who speaks fluent Persian and has extensively documented the Iranian regime’s repression of the country’s tiny Jewish population, which is estimated to number 9,000 members.

An Iranian woman walking past a Hanukkah menorah symbol

In April, Iran International reported that the Islamic Republic ordered Jews to participate in the antisemitic al-Quds Day rally during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Sabti said the situation with Rosh Hashanah is comparable to Passover because the Jewish leadership said at the time on its Telegram platform: “Please do not go for picnics or enjoyable activities on al-Quds Day.”

Sabti added, “It is like al-Quds Day. They have to show their loyalty. They use delicate words. They use the kind of words that the regime can’t be upset with them for. The regime and Jews understand it.

They don’t say directly there are protests. This would be forbidden. They go around it. This is the kind of cultural talking for people with a Persian background in Iran.”

Prior to Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran’s Jewish population numbered at least 100,000, most of whom fled after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power.

Iranian Jews preparing for prayers at the Abrishami synagogue at Tehran’s Palestine street

According to the Telegram post, the Jewish community wrote: “Coordination with the police force to create security and comfort for the grand ceremony of Rosh Hashanah .Respectfully, while congratulating in advance on Rosh Hashanah and wishing you a prosperous year, we inform you that by the grace of the Almighty and with the coordination made with the respected police force of Greater Tehran, the necessary arrangements have been made for the safety and comfort of our dear fellow believers for the celebration of the glorious and fateful day of Rosh Hashanah.” 

Sabti noted the “Iranian Jewish leadership complimented the Iranian regime police. This is what they have to do.” He says the Iranian Jewish community has to “show they are loyal to the Iranian regime.”

The Telegram post noted “The public relations of the Tehran Jews Association, while thanking the loved ones of the police force for their unquestionable and constant help, has no doubt that the Kalimi community will once again draw a line against the evil plans of Iran's enemies and celebrate the magnificent ceremony of Rosh Hashanah away from any sidelines.”

Anniversary of Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini at Yusef Abad Synagogue in Tehran (Photo: Mehdi Marizad)

Sabti said the word Kalimi is a “polite word for Jewish” and “They don’t use the Jew because it means Zionist for the regime.” He said the Iranian word Kalimi can be loosely translated as the people from “Moses’s nation.”

Iran International exclusively reported in December that the Islamic Republic imposed pressure on religious minorities to compel them to condemn the uprising of the Iranian people following the murder of Amini in police custody.

Also in December, the regime arrested five Iranian Jews during the nationwide protests.

Iran’s regime and its foreign policy are based on an antisemitic world view, according to experts on the Middle East. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) exposed Iran’s former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif using an antisemitic term for Jews. “In a December 9, 2020 interview with Arman TV, Zarif used the antisemitic term for Jews – johood in Persian,” wrote MEMRI.

MEMRI noted, “A few days later, he attempted to cover up his statement with a dishonest attack on MEMRI. On December 16, he tweeted: ‘MEMRI has sunk to a new low in taking my pejorative usage of a word to accuse me of Antisemitism..."’

MEMRI added, “Foreign Minister Zarif is lying about Iran's positions on Jews and Israel. The MEMRI archives are full of research proving that the Iranian regime and its leaders are antisemitic and call openly for the annihilation of Israel.”

George Haroonian, one of the leading voices of the Iranian-Jewish community in the US, told Iran International "Contacting and coordinating with police in High Holidays is common practice wherever Jews are, but this announcement has some peculiar 'matters.' Who they mean by 'enemies' who might seize the occasion? Seems they are concerned about anti-Jewish elements within the country who might want to cause harm. As always, Jews are at the mercy of the regime."

He added, "I believe majority of Iranian people do not wish anything negative for Iranian Jewish community, but there is a minority who justifies their antisemitism based on variety of rationals. Based on Islamic beliefs as well as their hate for Israel."

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