Apr. 24, 2015
Jews Have Good Reason to Be Wary of Tehran’s Rhetoric – Shahrzad Elghanayan (Washington Post)
- During recent talks in Switzerland, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC’s Ann Curry: “We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people.”
- That’s not quite right. Iran’s Jews did have something of a golden age relatively recently, but Zarif can’t take credit for it. That era was a brief period when the conservative Shiite clergy were stripped of their power – after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 gave Iranians of all religions and ethnicity equal rights, and before Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979.
- Jews have lived in Iran since 586 BCE. In the 16th century, conservative Shiite scholars and clergy under the Safavid dynasty had restrictions placed on all minorities, including Jews, to bar them from economic activity and to prevent them from passing their “ritual impurity” to Muslims.
- It was during that window of relative Jewish affluence that my grandfather, Habib Elghanian, became one of Iran’s most famous industrialists after he and his brothers introduced the plastics industry to the country in the late 1940s. In 1959, he was elected the chairman of the country’s Jewish association. In 1962, when my family built the country’s first private sector high-rise, the 17-story Plasco Building in Tehran, Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran.
- In a 1964 address, Ayatollah Khomeini spoke about how: “The entire country’s economy now lies in Israel’s hands; that is to say it has been seized by Israeli agents. Hence, most of the major factories and enterprises are run by them.” That speech singled out two people in particular: One was my grandfather, and the other was Baha’i industrialist Habib Sabet.
- When Khomeini returned from exile in February 1979 as the head of the Islamic revolution, my grandfather was among the first civilians he went after. On May 9, 1979, my grandfather was executed after a 20-minute trial on trumped-up charges that included being a “Zionist spy.” After a firing squad killed him, the new regime stole what he had spent his lifetime building.