Karmel Melamed
Iranian American Journalist and Commentator

Iranian Regime’s Quest To Remove Iran’s Ancient Jewish Heritage

Tomb of Esther and Moredchai in Iran

As a journalist for the past 20 years I have had the special opportunity to hear firsthand and report on the countless heart-breaking stories of imprisonment, torture, executions and escape which members of my Iranian Jewish community experienced at the hands of Iran’s current radical Islamic regime. Last month I was left in tears after reading the news and seeing photos of the synagogue adjacent to the tombs of Judaism’s great biblical heroes Esther and Mordechai attacked by anti-Semitic arsonists in Iran.

The ancient mausoleum containing the tombs was thankfully not damaged but the arson attack but this was yet another dagger the Ayatollah regime has plunged into the hearts of my community. After 41 years of killing, imprisoning and chasing out Iran’s ancient Jewish community, the Ayatollah regime’s thugs are now trying to destroy the sites and heritage of Iran’s Jewish past. The regime’s actions against Iran’s Jews and Jewish sites is indeed heartbreaking, but the lack of serious actions on the part of America’s major Jewish organizations and leaders to the on-going campaign on Jews and Jewish sites in Iran in recent years is even more painful for many of us Iranian American Jews.

While the Jewish leaders of Iran have appeared on the Iranian regime’s state-run media outlets and downplayed the attack on the Esther and Mordechai site as a mere “accident”, photos released from the regime’s media of the synagogue’s smoke and fire damage tell a different story altogether. Even though historians are not certain the site is indeed Esther and Mordechai’s final resting place, over the centuries it has come to represent the ancient past and important heritage of Iranian Jewry. It is a site all Iranian Jews point to as a reminder to our children, to other Iranians as well as to the world that we have deep roots in Iran and take pride in the history of our forefathers who have lived in that nation for millennia. When we see this site under attack by the Iranian regime’s thugs and zero actions taken by Iran’s ayatollahs to stop such behavior, this is a clear indication that the regime now wishes to eliminate any historical evidence of the ancient Jewish presence in Iran. Indeed it has not been enough for Iran’s demonic Ayatollah regime to drive out Iran’s once 80,000 strong population in 1979 to just 8,000 today–  the regime now wants to eliminate all signs of Iran’s Jewish past as well! Just as the Taliban destroyed ancient historic statutes of Buddha in Afghanistan in March 2001, or ISIS forces destroyed the tomb of the Jewish prophet Jonah in 2014, so too are the thugs of the Iranian regime trying to do the same to the Esther and Mordechai site today! And while many in the Iranian regime or frightened Jews living in Iran may wish to sweep this incident under the rug and forget about it, the Esther and Mordechai site have been openly threatened by the Iranian regime’s thugs in the past. In fact, in 2010 the regime’s student Basij militia in the Iranian city of Hamedan held a protest rally in front of the Esther and Mordechai site and threatened to demolish the site. Again this past February 7th, the Basij Student Council of Hamedan University issued a statement warning to turn the Esther and Mordechai site into the Consulate of Palestine if Israel implemented President Trump’s “Deal of the Century”.

Now some apologists for the Iranian regime have argued in recent weeks that the threats and attacks against the Esther and Mordechai site were “ a one-time occurrence” or “isolated” and that the Jews live in relative peace and security in Iran. Such claims are nothing but pure lies and garbage! There have been sporadic attacks against Jews and Jewish sites in Iran in recent years. In fact, in February 2019, I was one of the few journalists in America who reported on three antique torah scrolls being stolen in broad daylight from a 125 year old synagogue in Tehran’s Jewish ghetto. The Iranian regime never investigated the crime and never arrested anyone in connection with the crime. Likewise in December 2017, two synagogues in the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz were vandalized by unknown assailants and the Iranian regime never investigated that crime nor arrested anyone in connection with it. Moreover in November 2012, Toobah Nehdaran, a 57-year-old married Jewish woman, was strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death, and her body was mutilated in a ritual manner by thugs who had broken into her home located inside the Jewish ghetto within the Iranian city of Isfahan. Nehdaran’s gruesome murder was also never investigated by Iranian authorities and suspects were never arrested in connection with her murder. Additionally In 2000, with the assistance of various American-Jewish groups, the Iranian-Jewish community in Los Angeles, worked to publicize the case of 13 Iranian Jews from Shiraz who were imprisoned in 1999 on fabricated charges of spying for Israel. Ultimately, the international exposure put pressure on the Iranian regime, and the so-called “Shiraz 13” were released. With these on-going attacks on Iran’s Jewish sites and Jews living in Iran, many Iranian Jews living in America are surprised the larger American Jewish community’s leadership has not done more to raise greater awareness about such attacks? Why haven’t groups like the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations pressured European governments to stop their business ties with the Iranian regime because of these attacks on Jewish sites? More importantly why hasn’t any major campaign like that launched against the Soviet Union’s mistreatment of Jews launched by America’s Jewish community in the 1970s and 1980s not also launched against the demonic Iranian regime? How can we stay silent while the Iranian regime tries to erase Iran’s Jewish past and at the same also denies the Holocaust? What will it take for American Jewish leaders to finally do something substantive on the issue of the Iranian regime’s on-going campaign against Iran’s Jews and Jewish sites?

After the attack on the Esther and Mordechai site in Iran, to add insult to injury, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader several weeks ago released an anti-Israel cartoon on his website which contained the Nazi-era slogan of “The Final Solution” in the headline. This cartoon was yet another clear example and message by the Iranian regime of their anti-Semitic genocidal intentions. We as American Jewry, both Ashkenazim and Mizrahim need to stand united and help stop this on-going effort by the Iranian regime to erase Iran’s ancient Jewish heritage. “Never Again” is a message that we must implement when it comes to this evil anti-Semitic Iranian regime.

About the Author
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California; He is a member of the Speakers Bureau of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa