- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

TEHRAN — Members of Iran’s Jewish community fear they are being set up to take the blame if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s drive to establish a nuclear program ends badly for the country.

Members of the 30,000-strong community say they already are being viewed as a potential fifth column after a series of speeches in which the firebrand president has spoken of a “Holocaust myth” and heaped scorn on Europe for its defense of the “Zionist entity.”

“Ahmadinejad has decided to pick on the easiest victim, Israel,” said Meir Javedanfar, a specialist on Iran and director of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Co. “Every time Ahmadinejad has internal problems, he will attack Israel again, using it as a tool.”

Iranian Jews, many of whom have family ties with Israel, are hitting back with forceful public rebuttals. But privately, they acknowledge fears of orchestrated political attacks if the United States or Israel conducts air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

There are still painful memories of events six years ago in the southern city of Shiraz, where 13 Iranian Jews and eight Muslims were accused of spying for Israel.

It was widely thought that they were being used as pawns in a struggle within the Islamic regime, with hard-liners seeking to embarrass President Mohammed Khatami and his comparatively moderate administration.

Now there are signs that Mr. Khatami and other reformers are using the Jews to try to undermine Mr. Ahmadenijad’s political agenda.

Mr. Khatami publicly contradicted the president this month, describing the Holocaust as a “historical reality.”

“We should speak out if even a single Jew is killed. Don’t forget that one of the crimes of Hitler, Nazism and German national socialism was the massacre of innocent people, among them many Jews,” the cleric said in widely published remarks.

The prominent centrist newspaper Sharq also has taken on Mr. Ahmadinejad, saying, “The Jewish question was never a problem for Iran or Islam.”

The debate has forced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to speak out in support of the president in spite of widespread reports that he is unhappy with Mr. Ahmadinejad, who recently called for Israel “to be wiped off the map.”

After the 1979 Islamic revolution, thousands of Jews left for Israel, Western Europe or the United States, fearing persecution. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first post-revolutionary supreme leader, issued a “fatwa” to protect Jews and other religious minorities, reducing the outflow to a trickle.

Tehran has a Jewish nursing home and a Jewish library with a reading room used by both Muslim and Jewish university students. The capital also has a Jewish hospital and 11 functioning synagogues.

Haroun Yashayaei, the leader of the Jewish community, wrote publicly to Mr. Ahmadinejad last month, asking how he could “ignore all of the undeniable evidence existing for the exile and massacre of the Jews in Europe during the Second World War.”

The president’s questioning of the Holocaust, he wrote, “has created astonishment among the people of the world, and spread fear and anxiety among the small Jewish community of Iran.”

“At the moment, there is no direct political pressure on the Jewish community,” Mr. Yashayaei said in an interview.

Explaining why he wrote the letter, he said, “It is more a question of emotional stress. I was angry at what the president said, and it is my right to tell him what I think.”

Jews have scored several legal victories in recent months, said Morris Motamed, a Jewish member of the Majlis, or parliament.

One of those ended a practice under which a Jewish family received far less money in compensation than a Muslim family when a relative was killed in an accident.

Another bill, expected to be passed in the coming months, will remove discriminatory aspects of the inheritance laws.

Iran’s Jews, however fear that such progress could be reversed by a coming conference called by Mr. Ahmadinejad to “investigate evidence for the Holocaust.”

In such a climate, Mr. Motamed said, “a backlash in the wake of [U.S. or Israeli] air strikes becomes a real possibility.”

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