Iranian Jews in the 20th Century: Between Iranian Nationalism, Communism and Zionism

Iranian Jews in the 20th Century: Between Iranian Nationalism, Communism and Zionism


>>I’m Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi. I am the director of Sharmin and
Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian
Gulf Studies. And this year, I’m
going to make this very, very short because
time is limited today. This year we are starting
our lecture series with a Lior Sternfeld talk. And usually they say that
we save the best for last. But this year we
brought the best first. And there’s a very exciting
lineup of lectures, meetings, programs, concerts, films, and
so, please do check our website. I think there’s a
flyer outside there. Please pick up that flyer
and you’ll have an idea about the kind of programs that we have lined
up for you this year. We only have less
than an hour today, unfortunately, I’m
sorry about that. But let me just to
introduce our speaker. Lior Sternfeld is assistant
professor of history at Penn State University. He was educated first in
Ben-Gurion, in Negev, in Israel. And then, got his PhD from the
University of Texas in Austin. As the famous saying
goes, we have Austin and then we have
Texas [laughter]. His first book which came out of Stanford University
press last year “Between Iran and Zion, Jewish Histories of
20th Century Iran” is a highly, highly recommended book. And please order it directly, either from Stanford
University Press or Amazon. I don’t want to advocate
for Amazon, but these days that’s the
only bookstore we have. And it’s a fascinating study
and today Lior will talk about this issue of looking
at the Iran Jewish community, as both people who
played a pivotal role in state building
Iran, as well as people who basically gave voice to
oppositional politics in Iran. So, without further ado I
introduce Professor Sternfeld. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you so much for this
lovely introduction, Behrooz. And I want to thank
Behrooz and Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani
Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies
for organizing this talk. And I had a great time
seeing old friends here. And I thank you for that. Before I start my talk, and
we have the book cover here. I just want to say,
I don’t mind you to judge this book by the cover. So, just, I really love it. And it’s okay with me if
you just see the cover and say, it’s a great book. So you know just to
warm up a little bit, I usually start with a question. I tell people that I
work on Iranian Jews. And usually I mean
many people don’t know that Jews live in Iran. So, by a show of hands, how
many Jews live in Iran today? If you think that
the answer is a, 80 to 100,000, raise your hand. B, less than 2000. We have a couple of hands. C, 20 to 35. D, more than 100,000. All right, so that completion. The answer is C. And the
numbers are very varied and we get different sources
with different numbers and the range is actually
even bigger than that, but it’s acceptable to think that today the numbers
are around 20-25,000. All right. So, now that we’re
warmed up, in summer 2016, I travelled to Paris to
conduct the last interviews for this book. I interviewed the
first president of the Islamic Republic,
Abolhassan Banisadr and the renowned Iranian
intellectual Diusha Ashari [assumed spelling]. When we started talking, Ashari asked me what’s
my book is about. And I told him that I’m
hoping to write the history of Iranian Jews in
the 20th century. Ashari, a shrewd humorous
sarcastically asked me, what about the other 2600 years. With this question,
Ashari was poking fun at the Iranian Jewish custom
to start each one’s personal or family history with
the Babylonian exile that brought them to
Iran some 2700 years ago. In a way, it reflects
the state of the field of Iranian Jewish history. The tendency of writing
this long history as one linear narrative goes
far beyond the informant family or community histories. The theme of Iranian Jewish
history lacks depth and breadth that do justice to the rich
history of these communities. This was true before
the revolution of 1979, and even truer today. A few years ago in grad school,
when I compiled my written list for the comprehensive exam,
there was one monograph, one book on Jewish history
in the 20th century. The book was Habib Levy’s
“The Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran”
that was written in 1961 and covered the history
of Iranian Jews since the Babylonian
exile, some 2700 years ago. There’s a lot to say about
this corpus of the Habib Levy. His own history, training,
life, and I’m happy to get to it later in the Q&A. But now, should we ask, can
one book of three volumes in the Persian original edition,
discuss 2700 years in a nuanced and sophisticated way. After the 1979 revolution with
the relocation of the majority of Iranian Jews to the US, we see that the way Iranian
Jews talked about their history and wrote their history
has changed drastically. Iranian Jews now had to position
themselves not just in relation to the US majority society, but also vis-à-vis the dominant
mostly Ashkenazi American Jewish community. We see how the language to
describe their experience in their previous
homeland has changed. They borrow terms
from the vocabulary that Ashkenazi American Jews use to describe their
histories back in Europe. Events of unrest became pogroms,
a term that was never used by Iranian Jews back in the day. The [foreign word], the Jewish
neighborhood turned into ghetto. Both examples are used when
speaking English and not when speaking about
it in Persian. Now I want to show
you Habib Levy’s book. So, this is the original
1961 edition. This image appeared in the book. And it shows Habib Levy
at the entrance to Tehran, [foreign word] to the Jewish
neighborhood in Tehran. And this is the same photo in
the English edition of 1999. And it says an entrance
to the Tehran ghetto. Now, the usage of ghetto. All right, this I’ll
get to it in a second. The usage of ghetto is not
just boring and neutral term from a different language. Using ghetto in the
Jewish context, after 1945 creates
a world of images that do not necessarily
reflect correctly or contextualize Jewish
existence in Iran. Just to take from
close enough example to show the difference
[foreign word] in Cairo remained
[foreign word] in writing and writing on Jews in Cairo. Otherwise it’s translated
as Jewish quarter. And this goes for other
Jewish neighborhoods across the Middle East. Now, to show you that it’s not
just purely academic issue, this is from a news
outlet in Israel from a couple of months ago. And the title is “Who
Stole the Scrolls From Iran’s Jewish Ghetto?” Later, it appeared
that no one stole it. But the question is there. it tells us something much
broader about our ability to think about the Jewish
history nonwestern societies in general. But also in Iran, specifically. The narrative, as it goes, is that Iranian Jews saw
themselves as Iranian. They stayed out of politics. They celebrated the
Persian heritage, [foreign word] for example. They suffered from hatred and
discrimination that stopped for a while under
the Pahlavi Monarchy. The community was very Zionist,
and the alliance between Israel and Iran also supports
the notion. And that history ended
with the 1979 revolution. By the way, with a
Zionist redemption. Such narrative prevents us from
seeing the immense diversity of the Iranian Jewish community
and the many voices that existed in that community
throughout the years. The pushback usually
comes when talking about political activism. When talking about
their involvement in the Communist Party, in a
way that we don’t usually see in cases like Iraq or Egypt. It prevents us from
investigating the nature of Middle Eastern and
Iranian communism or even to analyze what the term
Iranian Zionism meant. We already know that
Jews were prominent part of communist parties in other
Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, Egypt,
Morocco, and others. We know that until 1948,
Jews were pretty assimilated in their respective
Middle Eastern societies. And no one would make such
assertions regarding Jews in any other Middle
Eastern countries. So why do we see it here? There is a very good
visual explanation of that historiographical work. Meir Gal’s work shows us
how little we care to know about the Middle East. So this is, Meir Gal
is a visual artist. And this work is called
“9/400, The West and The Rest.” And in this work, he shows that a high school
history textbook 400 pages, 9 pages are dedicated
to the Middle East. Not Middle East Jews, not
Middle Eastern Jewish societies histories, the Middle
East, all of it. Nine pages of the 400. Now, this is part of
a much bigger problem. In the history of
society, 50% of which is of Middle Eastern background. So, if I want to connect
this to the state of research on Iranian Jews, on
Middle Eastern Jews, on Iranian history in general. I want to see in real
numbers how come we have such a shallow understanding of
the Jewish Iranian experience. And that’s what I found. I went to WorldCat,
even though it’s a cat, it’s the man’s best friend. The source that gives us data
from libraries worldwide. And I search Jews Iran
history 20th century. I got 31 results, 31 results,
1 history book, Habib Levy, a few collections of essays. We have some PhD and master
thesis, Judo Persian literature. Some family albums,
VHS home videos. But again, not research,
not body of research that we even talk about. Most of it in Hebrew. All right. And then I search Jews
Iran history 19th century. We got 10 results. Actually two of them are
pretty good books, but only 10. Now, the broadest term for
Jews Iran history gives us 390 results. Now, just to compare, I replaced
Iran with other countries. The first one, Egypt. We get on the 20th
century, 105 results. Not a whole lot, but still
three times more than Iran. Iraq, we have 122 results. United States, 1503. China, 154 and to be honest I
didn’t know that there were Jews in China until I searched it. And you know, going on the
obvious, Germany, we have 2794. So, it’s a real problem here. Now, I want to provide
a quick overview of history of Zionism in Iran. Zionism first came to the fore
in Europe as a national movement of European Jews in
a way it was reaction to the European Enlightenment
and nationalism. We see the conversation in the Jewish communities
regarding Zionism in the 1890s onwards. And we see a movement that
offered Jews distant existence in place that wouldn’t
reject them as Europe did. Or even truer would be
to say Eastern Europe. There were many paradoxes in
the Zionist thought that because of our short time,
I cannot cover. But one of the biggest among
them was that the great promise of Zionism was to allow
Jews, becoming fully European when they migrate out of Europe. And we can talk about
other paradoxes. Herzl, internalizing,
anti-Semitic stereotypes. And my favorite of all is
we don’t believe in God but he promised us this land. At this point, no lead of the national Zionist movement
even considered oriental Jews as part of the future
Israeli or Zionist societies. The oriental Jews themselves, having had a very different
experience in the 19th and early 20th centuries, did
not articulate a clear response to the political
development in Europe. Moreover, the Jews of the Middle
East had not undergone the process of secularization
that was essential to the Zionist paradigm. And maintain the
religious perception of [inaudible] Ottoman, Mandatory Palestine
as the holy land. Jews from the Middle East and
Iran immigrated in small numbers to Palestine throughout
the ages. But we have to remember
that the region was part of the Ottoman Empire. So, travels were
indeed pretty common, especially for pilgrimage and
the economy that facilitated it. The message of political
Zionism first struck a chord with Jewish Iranians in 1917, following the Balfour
Declaration that came at the same time of the
first isolation Iranian Jews experienced with the outcomes of
the constitutional revolution. All of a sudden, the promise
of relocating to a place of their own sounded
rather tempting. Iranian Jews established Zionist
associations to teach Hebrew and handle the preparation
for a mass exodus. However, shortly after, in
1925 with the ascendance of Reza Pallavi as the new Shah,
who overthrew the Qajar Dynasty, the new national
project and division of a new Iranian society
with almost a diminished role over region and an
emphasis on ethnic identity, made the Jews shaft their
plans for relocation. Reza Shah removed all
the laws that barred Jews and other minorities from
living in certain areas, engage in some occupations,
and join the Army, for example. Jews have now become nominally
part of the Iranian society. Zionism remained the morph and
destine underground operation. Zionist organizations could
operate openly in some fields and then banned altogether. Sympathies to Zionism and
different interpretations of Zionism started to split
the communities in 1930s. Shmuel Haim, the
Jewish representatives to the Majlis had the
harsh disagreement with another Jewish
dignitary Lockma Nahari [assumed spelling]. While Nahari espoused
the interpretation and perhaps the practice
that Jews to join full force the Zionist
international organizations, Haim believed that Zionism is
overall a positive development, but Iranian Jews should fight
for their rights in Iran, and not fulfill it for
any messianic dream. Haim published newspaper
called “The Haim Life” in which it preached
for integration efforts for the Jews, participation
in political life, developing national
consciousness, Haim was actually executed Reza
Shah for mostly false accusation of being complacent and an
attempt to assassinate him. In any case, following
this incident, any non-Iranian organized
movement was banned from operating in
Iran, Zionism included. World War II changed
things around once again. In 1941, the allied armies
invaded and occupied Iran and force Reza Shah
to abrogate in favor of his son Mohammad
Reza Pallavi, who opened political
sphere to any and every political
movement, Zionism included. For the first time,
Zionist organizations based in Mandatory Palestine
opened headquarters in Tehran and other Iranian cities
to care for the needs of Polish Jewish refugees
that arrived in Iran. But that’s part of
another stories. In any case, after seeing the
Polish refugees fled Europe, first, the Nazis and then
starting Soviet Union, Iranian Jews went through
a couple of stages. One, the leadership recognized
the need to have the brethren over in Europe escape
the Nazi’s first and then to help them establish
national home. This obviously made a case
for the Zionist cause in Iran. And many Iranians
connected to this message of a Jewish redemption
on the Zionism. Another thing that happened
among Jews is that just like non-Jewish Iranians,
they found political home in the newly formed
Communist Party. They supported it and
joined it for many reasons. Communist ideology was not one of the main reasons why
Jews supported to the party. The main reason was that to
the party being the fiercest opposition to fascist
forces in Iran and outside. And the struggle for
egalitarian society, something that resonated
with Iranian Jews that were still lower
class, broadly speaking. One interviewee for this
research was born in Tehran in the early 1930s and now is
residing in Northern America. At the age of 16, he
joined into the party and remained an active member
for more than three decades. His political activity
landed him in Casa Prison for half a dozen times
before he left Iran. He told me, I knew nothing
about Marx or Marxism when I joined to them. I joined because this
was the only place that they didn’t call
me Jew-hude [phonic], a derogatory term for Jews. I learned Marxism in
Casa Prison shortly after I joined the party. So all the intellectual
leadership to the party was in prison, so they started
classrooms and taught Marxism. On top of that, Jews published
communist leaning newspapers. And some Jews were among
the top ranks of the party. So, these are a few Jewish
to the affiliated newspapers. This is the son that was
affiliated with the two. The value of these newspapers
go beyond just spreading news. In the times when the
official publications to the party were banned, these
newspapers became the mouthpiece for the party leadership. So, their distribution went far
beyond the Jewish community. This is [foreign word]
another newspaper. They brought news from the
Jewish world, they brought news from remote Jewish
communities in Iran. And they made the case for
supporting the [inaudible] and also all the political
arguments that were part of the discourse at that time. This is one of my
favorite images, because it shows Jewish
classroom in socialist Romania and describing the
eutopia Jews enjoyed on their socialism in Romania. You may call it fake news today, but back then it was
pretty attractive. So, we have to remember that mainstream Zionism
was a socialist movement. The socialist elements of the
movement were extremely dominant and extremely socialist. At around the same
time of the 1940s, they established the
Kibbutz in future Israel. And the Kibbutz were perhaps one of the biggest communist
experiments in history. At that point, one could
easily feel sympathies for the Zionist project while at
the same time being affiliated with the Iranian communist party and fighting alongside the
Iranian national movement against the Soviets in the north
and the British in the south. Indeed, a multi-hyphenated
identity, such as Iranian nationalist
communist. Zionist was not a rare sight. One of my interviewees came
to Israel in the 1950s. And he talked about his
identity and he said that he’s an Iran
nationalist, he’s a [inaudible], he’s a Zionist, and one of
the state officials that spoke to him told him, well
you can’t be all three, and if you know what’s
good for you, you choose one and
it’s the Zionist. After the establishment
of Israel in 1948, the Zionist movement could
no longer be considered a non-state actor. Having discovered the
terrible loss of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust that would’ve
been the human reservoir for Israel, Israel had
to find another source to make up for that loss. Again, while it was not their
intention in the first place, in 1948, David Ben-Gurion
Israel’s prime minister ordered to find them Masorti Jews. In the Middle East
from Morocco to Iran, from Yemen to Turkey there
were about 950,000 Jews living. The Israeli goals were to
make them immigrate in mass and it worked in several of the
communities for several reasons, but we see the Yemenite
community live in Yemen. Jews in Syria, Lebanon, Libya left almost
completely by 1948, 1949. Iraq by 1951, Morocco, Tunisia,
and Algeria, and Egypt by 1956. But in Iran, where Zionist could
operate almost completely openly and the population was pretty
sympathetic to Zionism, the Jews did not
consider political Zionism to be their ideal solution. Rather, they were going
through rapid process of modern urbanization
and becoming integral part of their homeland society. And global politics helped them, ironically make this
multilayered and once identities
and loyalties. In the early 50s, Habib Levy,
the same Habib Levy from “The Comprehensive
History” wrote a report for the Jewish agency in
Jerusalem lamenting the loss of an entire generation,
young generation, that preferred leftist Iranian
organizations over Zionist ones. To that mix we can add socialist
and Zionist political parties, especially from the spectrum
of the Kibbutz movement that sentiment ancillaries
to Iran and they found mutual
ground themselves with Iranian socialist
and communists. And there were of
course, the alliance between the Iran
intellectual elites, for example Jalal Al-E Ahmad
that visited Israel in 1963 with his wife, the
novelist, Simin Daneshvar. And they visited [foreign word],
and they visited [foreign word], and they stayed in
[foreign word] in Israel and he wrote very important
travel log he came back. It was recently translated
to English. I dearly recommend it. But this is what I found
from the Kibbutz guestbook. In the handwriting fo r Jalal
Al-E Ahmad and Simin Daneshvar. “Regardless of the hospitality, I saw here people I’ve
never expected to meet, to learn people,
understanding and open-minded in a sense they’re
implemented plateau, honestly speaking I
always identified Israel as the Kibbutz, and
now I understand why.” And Daneshvar, “As I see it
the Kibbutz is the answer to the problems of all the
countries, including our own.” As a former Kibbutznic,
I’ll not comment on this. But you have to understand that
Jalal Al-E Ahmad is considered to be one of the prophets
of the revolution. He is one of the people
that most identified with the new order
of the left in Iran. And this is his view
of Israel in 1963. Israel was also, there were very
strong alliances between Israel and Iran in many levels. There was one between the
government, second level was between the opposition
movements and third was between the intellectuals, artists that went
back and forth. There were 18 weekly flights
between Tehran and Tel Aviv. And this is the lineup for
the Moulin Rouge covering in Tehran 1969. In the second draw we
see artists Googoosh and Vegon [assumed spelling]. Superstars by any scale. But at the top of the headline, the international singer Tova
Parrot [assumed spelling], an Israeli singer. I did not know of her until
I came across this poster. But in Iran she was a big star. And this was, again, one of the most prominent
nightclubs in Iran. So, in those times, we
Zionist and Israeli involvement in Jewish life in Iran. Zionist clubs and youth
movements were active. However, Iranian youth
did not engage Zionism as Israeli officials that hoped. Indeed, Zionism had become
more complex than in 1917. The 25,000 Iranian Jews that
had immigrated to Israel between 1948 in 1951 were
the poorest and the neediest of the Iranian Jewish
communities. But there were myriad
of stories at that time, of Jews who had immigrated
and returned, or immigrated and
wanted to return. And the important thing was that Iranian Jews overall had a
sober idea of what was waiting for them on the other
side of the Zion story. Unlike many other
Middle Eastern Jews. A Tehran example is given in Stanly Abramowitz
report in 1951. Stanley Abramowitz was
one of the director of the American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee in Iran. Where he describes one instance
of Jews from the [foreign word]. I quote, “The letters that come
from Israel dumping all spirits. The Iranian Jew is not the
[inaudible] pioneer type. The ordeals of present-day life in Israel have left them
discouraged longing to return to his dark dump ghetto room. For he has been used to
that room and even liked it. Food is available in Iran,
and though he earned little, he lived in an environment
which was not strange to him. The language, the people,
the life was familiar. Israel is not. As a Persian he is
looked down upon. The letters that come
back to Iran complain about the shortage of food. [Foreign word] received a
letter and a tourist scroll from their brethren in Israel. The Nahavand Jews in
Israel signed their names on this piece of scroll. In the accompanying letter, they
wrote that they took an oath by the Tora from which they sent
a piece, that their brethren in Nahavand will not
come to Israel now, anyway not until
they inform them that the time is more suitable. And Nahavand is a godforsaken
place in the mountains of [inaudible] cut off
from the outside world. Yet, the [inaudible] in Israel
advised them, insured them to remain in the Nahavand. Another family was
advised not to leave for until their son,
Joseph is married. Joseph is one-year-old”
[laughter]. Another interesting
and nuanced idea comes from Elialis Harkian
[assumed spelling]. Elialis Harkian was a
teacher and principal of [inaudible] schools in
Iran for over 25 years. He wrote in his memoir, “Iran has been my
homeland, [foreign word]. And Jerusalem has been
the source of my belief in God and [foreign word].” This quotation suggests
yet again that many Iranian Jews had
different interpretations of Zionism than the
one the Jewish agency in Israel advanced. Elialis Harkian was a role
model for many Iranians. And it is clear that his
national identity of Iran and did not interfere with his
religious identity as a Jew. He proudly projected this
combined identity throughout his career, which may have inspired
and encouraged his students. Again, this is something that we
see a lot toward the late 70s. This combined identity
of Jewish and Iranian, Iranian and Jewish Brother. So, we know that Jews were part
of the revolutionary movement. There was actually elections
in Iran in March 1978. So, full nine months
before the Shah left Iran. And a revolutionary organization
won the Jewish communities’ elections in 1978. So in a way the Jewish community
was revolutionized before the rest of the country. It was led by two leaders who
were former [inaudible] leaders. They served time in
the Shah’s prison. [Inaudible] they published
a revolutionary newspaper. They organized event
and speaking engagements for the leaders of the revolutionary
movement in Synagogues. This is, for example, one of
the biggest demonstrations in September 1978, and
there were 12,000 Jews in this demonstration. Another story that I like
to tell, do we have time? How much time do we have? All right. So, I’ll take like
a few more minutes. In April 1979, People
still didn’t know which direction the
revolution was going to take. And it was actually, in a way
it was a pretty euphoric time in Iran. And in April 1979, the Iranian
State Television hosted a show on Passover. It was Passover. They wanted to show how the
values of Passover connect to the values of the revolution. And let the Jews feel more
welcome within the ranks of the revolutionary movement. And they hosted Asid
A-Nashrad [assumed spelling], who was one of the
leaders of the community. And he was a member of the Constitution Drafting
Committee at the time. And one of the Tehran rabbis. And they talked about how
the story Passover is going from slavery to freedom, just
like the Iranian revolution. And they talked about
Homanian Moses as equal. But toward the end of the show, the host basically
dropped a bomb. And he asked, is it true that
all the Jews are Zionists? Now, to say in Iran
on state TV in 1979 that all the Jews are Zionist
is nothing less than a bomb. And the two guests
were taken aback. And the first to
respond was the rabbi. And he asked the
host, what is Zionism? What is Zion do you know? Zion is the biblical
name of Jerusalem. I love Jerusalem. I pray to Jerusalem. If it makes me a Zionist,
then yes, I’m a Zionist and all the Jews are Zionist. You’re a Muslim, right? You pray to Mecca. You like Mecca. Are you Saudi? Now, to say to an Iranian that
his loyalties lie with Saudi over Iran, if there’s
one country that Iranians like less even back then. So, that was a moment that showed how Jews
conceptualize Zionism. And there’s another story
of the Sapir Hospital in Tehran during the revolution,
that I won’t get into it, but basically it was
one of the places to which they took wounded
protesters from the revolution, from the demonstrations and the
[foreign word] could not get to the hospital to
pick up the protesters. I cover it in my book. But, now with the delicate
situation between Israel and Iran since 1979 the Jews of
Iran were even more courageous to remain true to their
own interpretation of Judaism and Zionism. Even after the revolution,
Iranian Jews emigrated to the US and much fewer to Israel. About 25 to 30% of the
community chose to stay in Iran. They still recognize the
right of Israel to exist and are interested in
the goings on in Israel. They visit Israel and many
of them have relatives there. Even when speaking in public,
in press or the parliament, they say that the
most deplorable thing about Israel is not its
existence, but it’s refusal to become part of
the Middle East. To make peace with
its Arab neighbors and other issues concerning
the ethnic tensions in Israel. I would like to end with
a short excerpt from one of my favorite memoirs of Jewish
Iranian experience in 1970s by Roya Hakakian “Journey From
the Land of No” where she tells about a Passover Seder night in their family house
in Tehran, 1977. I quote, ‘”Naturally, it
caused an uproar at the center when father asked Uncle Artie
to read the [foreign word]. Everyone burst into laughter
before he bread of affliction. Same affliction that
our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. This year, we are slaves,
may the slavery never end. This year, here next
year, at home in Israel. Pardon me for not packing. The family dreamed of the land
of milk and honey but wanted to wake up in Tehran.” After reciting the [foreign
word] Uncle Artie asked, so Hakakian, are
your bags packed? Or is the flight to Jerusalem
postponed for another year? Father smiled and
waived him away, assuming his question
had been meant in gest. But uncle Artie without
the slightest hint of humor pressed on. Really, Hakakian, why say it? Why not love they neighbor like
thy self and call of the rest?” Thank you very much. [ Applause ] So, thank you so much, Lior
for this fascinating talk. We have 15 minutes
for questions. I know many of you
have questions. I will take a couple questions and then you can
answer them then.>>All right. [ Inaudible Audience Question ]>>So, if Passover this year, would he still answer
the same way, not packing, or maybe packing? [ Inaudible Audience Question ] Thank you, Lior, it
was really fascinating. You talked about it being
a positional [inaudible], just one more about the
governmental state or level. Because also in the 60s and 70s
this became actually quite big, there were lots of Israeli
companies, engineers, consultancies, etcetera. Did they also bring with them
this kind of ideological baggage as we saw in the 30s and
40s of a Zionist propaganda, or was it really separate?>>Yeah, all right. So, the question of identities
is so important, so crucial. And I’m not sure that we
can come to a perfect answer that puts to rest all
the different ingredients of this question. I think that at the end, at
the bottom line that the way that Iran and Jews identified
themselves until the 70s in Iran, and this was
the ultimate success of the Pahlavi Project. The Pahlavi Project allowed
them to think of themselves as equal part of the Iran
society, and not to resort to their religious ethnic
identities that were part of the old Iranian societies. In a way, despite
what I’m saying about the Iranian
Revolution and Jews being part of the revolutionary movement,
when Iranian Jews came to this country, they
experienced the immigration and the story of Iran
in different ways than; it made them rethink about
their history in Iran. So, they came up, and
it’s very shallow, the way that I’m
presenting it now. But they had to come up with
a different community story. A story that explains how the
revolution stole their country. And they came to US in 79
as the hostage crisis was on every screen in every home. And to identify oneself with
Iran was not smart thing if you wanted to integrate
in the new society. And the only thing that
the average American knew about Iran is that right
now there are hostages in the American consulate there. So we see that the emergence
of the new Persian identity that pretty much controls the
American Jewish communities in the US. And we see how they again, is
as I showed in the beginning, the writing in their story in
Iran that fits the vocabulary in the world of images
that was provided by the American Jewish community
that existed here before. And has no roots
in the Middle East. But we see that they
are extremely attached to the Iranian heritage. This is the only
community of immigrants that we can see third
generation, still speaking Persian. I mean, this is not something
that you can see almost in any other community
of immigrants. In the Sunday school in Los
Angeles, they teach in Persian. The Synagogue in Los Angeles,
the signs are in Persian. It’s a living memory. They still try to not abandon. And it goes to other
personal stories that are truly heartbreaking. A few of my interviewees
had lived in this country 20 and 30 years before they applied
for American citizenship. They didn’t want the American
citizenship, because it meant that they are here to stay. And they lived here for 20 and 30 years hoping
to go back to Iran. Now while the Islamic Republic
is still the ruling parliament, but you know with
the return of Pahlavi or whatever, other reality. So I hope that I. Sure. Would they still
give this answer today, the answer is yes and no. Yes, in the sense of. I’ll start with the no. No, because most of the
community left mostly to the US after the 1979 revolution. But yes, in the sense that there’s still a big
community there, big compared to other existing communities. I mean this is the
biggest community in the Middle East
outside of Israel. And we mustn’t think of
them as behind iron curtain. They are not locked in Iran. It’s not, “Not Without
My Daughter” scenario. They can go, they leave, they
visit Israel, they go back. It’s interesting to talk
to them and see how they, I mean I interviewed
many of them in Israel. And it’s interesting to see how
they view our life in Israel from their perspective. And these people would not
replace Iran for another thing. Not the US and not Israel. They visit Israel. Actually by US law,
they can come here and get permanent
residency immediately. But they don’t do it. Because Iran, they
cannot imagine themselves in any other place. Government relations. So, the Israeli companies
that came to Iran in 1960s and ’70s were very different from the experience
of the 30s-late 50s. Until the late 50s, Israel
believed that eventually that Iranian Jews would
immigrate to Israel. They believed that they’ll come
to their senses and move back. But what happened was that
there was a reverse migration. Many Iranian Jews got good jobs
in the government companies that worked in Iran
and went back to Iran, as representative of
Israeli companies. And it actually had them climb
the social ladder in Iran. Another thing was that the
community was profoundly transformed over
short period of time. In 1941, and I’ll be very brief. In 1941, the JDC, the Jewish
Distribution Committee conducted a survey in Iran and found that
out of the 100,000 Iranian Jews, 10% were among the
country’s economic elites, 10% were middle class,
and 80% were impoverished, rural, poor Jews. In 1977, the same organization
conduct another survey and they found that again, the number of Jews
was about 100,000. Ten percent were still
the economic elite. Eighty percent were middle
class and upper middle class. In the early 1960s,
Israel decided and we have the documentation,
they decided to stop treating Iranian Jews
as they treated Jews from, what they call the poor
countries and Jews at risk. And they moved them to the same
category as the US, England, Australia, and South Africa. Which is affluent,
safe communities. So the kind of relations
were actually benefited both countries and also the
Iranian Jewish community. It created a different branch
of the Iranian Jewish community which was Israeli
community in Iran. And it’s another story, but.>>Other questions? [ Inaudible Audience Question ]>>Today, the Irani; let me say
Iranian Jews are not well off or worse off than
any other Iranians. They are discriminated
against by law in many parts. But it’s Iran. The law is very problematic
to begin with. They are part of the
middle class today, most, overwhelmingly they
are middle class. Again, which is a category
that is problematic in and of itself today. But they are not
especially under Rouhani, they enjoyed many achievements,
political achievements. For example, a few years ago
the Majlis made it into law that Jewish students in
public schools don’t have to come on Saturday. Which is something that the
Jewish community was trying to get for decades. In December 2014, the
government unveiled the monument commemorating the Jewish foreign
soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war. Which is a major achievement
for the Jews to be part of this important story of
Iran in the Post Revolution. So, it’s complicated.>>Question there and then,
question and the we’ll go to. [ Inaudible Audience Question ]>>Absolutely, yeah. Thank you.>>Thanks. So, thank you for the
wonderful [inaudible]. I’m just wondering
if you can tell us to what do you contribute the
lack of literature in schools.>>It’s hard to hear.>>She asked, the question was
to what do I attribute the lack of literature on the
Iranian Jews, and.>>Lack of literature
on the Middle East.>>On the Middle East. Okay, so it’s even
easier to answer. Just because the Middle
East was not seen as part of the national identity
of Israel. I mean Israelis, this is
something, again I’m happy to come back for
a different talk. But Israelis consider
themselves European. And they play in the
champion’s league in Europe. They go to the Eurovision
song contest. And they are a villa
in the jungle. Therefore, there’s no need of starting the story
of the Middle East. And again, there is a long,
painful history of how Jews from Middle Eastern
background were treated by the Israeli state
in the first years. And it’s been corrected
over the past decade or so. It’s been slowly corrected. But you know, just a few
months ago there was an exhibit at the Israel Museum
in Tel Aviv. And the title of the exhibit
was Living With No Return. And the title of the show
was Living With No Return, The End of Judaism
in The Middle East. And it was very beautiful
aesthetically, but it provided the most
simplistic explanation. it’s I do know who can
even find it sufficient. But it was just several
anecdotes to explain the end of Judaism in the Middle East. Now, we can argue whether
Jewish history really ended in the Middle East. There is a big community
in Iran, by the way in this
exhibit, 1979 was the end of Jewish existence in Iran. They didn’t care to mention
that there is still a community of 20,000-something in Iran. There is a community
of some 5000 in Morocco, 3000 in Tunisia. There is a Jewish minister
in the Tunisian government. There is a national project in Egypt today a ring
of 1812 synagogues. There are three Jews
living in Cairo. But what does it mean that there
are ring of 1812 synagogues now? So, I mean they just,
I mean it’s not part of the national story,
therefore there is no need to produce knowledge on it. [ Inaudible Audience Question ] Thirty seconds. I mean yes. [ Laughter ] To see how the internal
migration patterns influence the understanding of Zionism,
and Jewish, identity, and Iranian nationalism
is fascinating and I try to do it hopefully in
a good way in my book. But so this was a period of
urbanization, people moving from the villages to cities. And many Jews from villages and
remote villages moved to Tehran because there was Jewish
agency camp of preparation for immigration to Israel. And they were waiting
for three and four years. And by that time, they
already settled in Tehran, and they changed their
plans, they don’t want to move to Israel anymore. So, they had to reinvent
themselves as Iranian, as Peruni, as whatever identity
they could come up with.>>Thank you.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]