Last month during the historic first visit of Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and his wife to Israel, I received multiple emotional messages and feedback from my friends in the Iranian Jewish community living in Israel. In their various heartfelt messages, many of these Iranian-Israelis expressed their unique sense of joy, optimism, and a feeling of healing they were experiencing while witnessing the Crown Prince embracing them while visiting various sites throughout Israel. His genuine message of peace and friendship to all Israelis was indeed very impactful for them. From the time they greeted the Crown Prince and his wife at the airport, to embracing him at the Western Wall and dancing with him at the private home of an affluent Iranian Jewish family, Iranian-Israelis for the first time in more than four decades told me that they finally felt a new page was turned in many of their lives after their traumatic experiences following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The Iranian-Israeli reactions to the Crown Prince’s visit to Israel are perhaps the beginning of a long past due healing process for many Iranian Jews after their painful experiences during the Islamic revolution. Likewise, this trip by the Crown Prince may also be the new beginning for their new journey in becoming the future bridges that will connect Israelis to a free and democratic Iran.
Many Israelis, American Jews and other Jews worldwide are unaware of the truly traumatic, horrific and utterly devastating experiences Iran’s Jews encountered after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran at the hands of the current Ayatollah regime. With the arrival of the Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1979 to Iran, almost overnight, the Jewish community of Iran which numbered roughly 80,000 strong, became third class citizens. Under the new regime’s radical Shiite Islamic laws, many of the rights and legal protections Jews as well as other religious minorities in Iran once enjoyed under the Shah were taken away and the Islamic regime’s authorities began randomly confiscating countless Jewish businesses and assets. Likewise, the regime also began a campaign of randomly arresting and terrorizing Iran’s Jews under the pretext of they being spies for Israel. Perhaps the most shocking blow to Iran’s Jewish community came on May 9, 1979 when the Khomeini regime executed Iran’s innocent Jewish community leader and billionaire industrialist Habib Elghanian on trumped up charges of spying for Israel and America. Elghanian’s execution and subsequent executions of other Jews in Iran stirred great fear among Iran’s Jews and resulted in thousands of them fleeing the country in massive waves.
Essentially, the nightmare has never ended for Iran’s Jews because of the Islamic regime’s continued relentlessly 44-year war waged against the Jews. This campaign of terror the regime has waged against Iranian Jewry has resulted in only 5,000 to 8,000 Jews remaining in Iran today. Over the decades, the Jews of Iran have been forced to leave behind their homes, businesses, properties and other assets valued in the billions of dollars because of the radical Islamic regime terrorizing them. Today the majority of Iran’s Jews have as a result resettled in Southern California, New York and Israel.
While Iranian Jews who today live in America and Europe have maintained friendships and are in constant contact with Iranians of other faiths outside of Iran, the Iranian Jews living in Israel have had limited interactions with the larger Iranian community in diaspora. While many non-Jewish Iranian celebrities, journalists, musicians, singers and athletes have visited Israel on occasion over the past decades, there had never been any more prominent Iranian political or major social figures who have visited Israel. My friends and contacts in Israel’s Iranian Jewish community informed me that as a result of this lack of regular contact and interactions with fellow Iranians of other faiths, they never had a feeling of healing, closure or even love from other Iranians after their painful experiences in the years after the 1979 revolution. Some said they feared that the deep-rooted Jew hatred that existed before and after the 1979 revolution among many Iranian Muslims, may have been the reason Iranians in diaspora never truly embraced them in Israel. Yet despite their somewhat disconnect with Iranians living out of Iran, Iranian Jews living in Israel have continued to remain very patriotic of Iran as well as embracing Iran’s language, culture, music and food.
Last month’s surprise and historic visit by Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi to Israel according to many Iranian-Israelis I spoke to was the first step in their feeling a sense of healing and reconnection to the larger Iranian community living outside of Iran. They told me after so many decades they finally experienced joy, pride and a sense of welcoming when the Crown Prince spoke to with a message of warm friendship and embraced them as fellow Iranian citizens. One Iranian-Israeli friend of mine said to me; “the respect and the love he and his wife showed us as fellow equal Iranians– instead of the rejection we experienced from the Islamic regime’s thugs, is something we and our families had not experienced since the time of his late father when we lived in Iran. It was a great special feeling of being reconnected to our past happier times.” After 44 years Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi became the first prominent Iranian leader to come to Israel, embrace his fellow Iranian compatriots and begin the process of healing old wounds.
Many Iranian-Israelis told me they also felt a sense of pride after the Crown Prince’s visits to Israel to attend the national Holocaust Memorial event and his message of opposing the Islamic regime’s decades long Holocaust denial. One Iranian-Israeli told me; “we finally felt pride in front of our fellow Israelis that an Iranian leader showed empathy and decency to the victims of the Nazi genocide.” Likewise, several Iranian-Israelis said the Crown Prince’s visit helped reconnect them in a way to the larger Iranian community in diaspora because their love of Iran and Iranian culture was on full display on social media platforms and broadcasted on various satellite Persian language news media outlets. “In a way his visit to Israel has also removed the unspoken taboo the Islamic regime’s leaders had long placed on traveling to Israel and showing friendship to Israelis,” said one Iranian-Israeli businessman to me recently.
At the same time, the warm reception Iranian-Israelis showed the Crown Prince and his wife during their visit to Israel was also surprising for many Israelis and the Israeli news media. I explained to a few Israeli journalists who contacted me about this phenomenon that the affection Iranian Jews in Israel displayed for the Crown Prince was only natural because he himself has not only expressed a sense of comradery toward them as fellow Iranians, but his late father and late grandfather were benevolent to Iran’s Jews during their reigns in power. The Crown Prince’s grandfather, Reza Shah, was the modern emancipator of Iran’s Jews in the 20th century. Reza Shah Pahlavi not only protected Jews in Iran from constant harassment and attacks from radical Islamic elements in the country, but he allowed them to leave their poverty-stricken ghettos in many cities as well as permitted them to obtain better business and educational opportunities. Therefore, it is not at surprising that Iranian Jews today living in Israel would give a warm welcome to the grandson of the man who was their emancipator and protector nearly 100 years ago in Iran.
Interestingly, the Crown Prince’s visit to the Baha’i’ Gardens in the Israeli city of Haifa was also a source of great joy and his standing in solidarity with millions of Iranians of the Baha’i’ faith. The Gardens are home to the Shrine of the Báb, one of the main religious figures of the Baha’i’ religion which was first established in Iran during the 19th century. Sadly, over the last 44 years individuals of the Baha’i’ faith have encountered greater hatred and greater persecution than Iran’s Jews from the Islamic regime’s authorities.
Now that the healing has begun from the pain of the 1979 revolution, many Iranian Jews living in Israel today may ultimately take on the future important role of being Israel’s ambassadors of goodwill with a free and democratic Iran after the current Islamic regime is toppled in Iran. The hope many of us Iranians of all faiths have is that the first visit of Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and his wife to Israel will not be his last, but only be the beginning in the upcoming journey towards true peace, friendship and formal relations between Iran and Israel.