The Society of Iranian Jews and community leaders irately rejected an offer by the Jewish Agency and wealthy Iranian ex- patriots to make aliyah in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars per family, in addition to regular immigrant benefits. The Iranian media published remarks by Jewish parliamentarian Morris Motamed and Siamak Sedek, chairman of the Teheran Jewish Association, saying, “Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians and their identity is not a commodity. We love the Iranian culture and immature enticements cannot undermine this. We won’t trade our citizenship for any amount of money.”
Iranian Jews have always been permitted to emigrate, but 70 percent of all emigrants over the years preferred the US to Israel. Even the Jews who do decide to move to Israel are few in number and now they will be subject to unnecessary pressure to prove their loyalty.
Recently efforts have been stepped up to encourage Iranian Jews, who live under a fundamentalist regime, to make aliyah. The unique offer was conveyed through special broadcasts in Persian and through various organizations and relatives of Iranian Jews.
Dr. Solly Shahuar of the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Haifa University, says there are 20,000- 25,000 Jews still living in Iran, which has the largest Jewish community of any Arab state. Most live in Teheran, but there is also a sizable community in Shiraz and other cities such as Esfahan and Madan. According to reports many Jews are economically established and free to keep mitzvas and provide their children a Jewish education. They have token representation in the Iranian parliament (the Majlas). Sometimes Iranian Jews even visit relatives in Israel and Israelis and Americans from Iran go back to Iran to visit and on business.
According to Dr. Shahuar, one of the main reasons for the decrease in immigration from Iran is financial uncertainty. Despite the anti-Israeli declarations issued on a regular basis by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian government’s official stance is not anti-Jewish. Still, Iranian Jews are aware they are second-class citizens like other minorities and are even persecuted by defense organizations, which view them as a potential threat.
(Film screenshot from “Jews of Iran” by Ramin Farahani, 2004, showing praying family in Abrishami synogogue in Tehran, the day before Jewish new year in 2002.)