Iran: Why Israel should support Iranian secular democracy and regime change

The Islamist regime in Iran is building nuclear weapons with the genocidal intention of destroying Israel and the Jews.  This regime also denies the Holocaust. Israel has every right to defend itself against this genocidal dictatorship, by military means if necessary.

But rather than focus on containing the Iranian Islamist regime, Israel and world Jewry should form a strategic alliance with their natural allies: Iranian secular democrats in exile.  Iranians and Jews share a common interest in removing this barbaric regime from power. The totalitarian dictatorship that seeks to destroy the Jews also viciously persecutes Iranian dissidents, resorting to systematic rape, murder, torture, and imprisonment to stifle protest.  Thus, this regime endangers not only the Jews but also the Iranian people.

Iranian Jews suffered persecution under the Safavid (1501-1736) and the Qajar (1796) regimes.  Thus, since Iran embraced Shi’ite Islam during the Safavid era, the Shi’ite clerics have treated the Jews as unclean, or najis.  In a sense, Ayatollah Khoemeini’s virulent hostility against Israel and the Jews is connected with the Shi’ite clerical tradition of regarding the Jews as unclean.

But the Persian King Cyrus is praised in the Hebrew Bible for allowing the Jews to return from exile in Babylon and rebuild the Second Temple in ancient times.  Cyrus symbolizes over 2,500 years of alliance between Jews and Iranians.

Israelis and American Jews must also understand that this regime’s anti-Semitiism does not represent the feelings of most Iranians inside or outside Iran.  In fact, the secular Iranian dictatorship under the Shah between 1948 and 1979 maintained close ties with Israel.  During this period, Iran was a major oil supplier to Israel, and Israel sold $500 million a year in arms to Iran.  According to Steve Simon, “Israel maintained a permanent delegation in Tehran that served as a de facto diplomatic mission. Ambassadors were ultimately exchanged in the 1970s.”  The motivation for this alliance was a common hostility toward Soviet Communism and Arab nationalism.  So many thousands of Israelis served in the Iranian defense, agricultural, and health care industries that a special school for Israeli Jewish children was founded in Tehran.  The Iranian monarchy’s strategic alliance with Israel demonstrates that an Iranian secular government would most likely support the Jews.

The Iranian Jewish community also flourished under the Shah.  80,000 Jews lived in Iran, including 60,000 who worshipped at 30 synagogues in Tehran alone. Most Jews were middle class or upper middle class.  Most Iranian Jews, like many Iranian professionals of all religions, left Iran following the Islamic Revolution in I979.

Iranians continue to demonstrate their affection for the Jews by embracing the Iranian-Israeli singer Rita Jahanforuz. Iranians are defying the regime’s virulent anti-Semitism and risking prison and torture by illegally buying and selling Rita’s work in Tehran’s ancient bazaar.  They are also downloading her music online by using special software to bypass the regime’s Internet censorship system. Like discontented Soviet youth in the 1970’s, Iranians are dancing to her music at secret underground parties.  Iranians are taking enormous risks to buy her CD’s and download her music online.  Iranians live under a brutal totalitarian regime which imprisons them for spying for Israel simply for interacting with Jews abroad.

Iranians are also seeking direct contact with Rita.  Iranians worldwide called into Radio Ran, a Persian language radio station in Israel, to speak with Rita.  One Iranian fan even dreamed of attending a Rita concert in Iran, writing,“Rita, I want one of these concerts in Iran. You have an amazing voice and you are another pride for Iran.”

Iranians showed their discontent with this regime by rising up against it in 2009.  The opposition’s public face was the liberal Islamists of the Green Movement, but an underground Iranian secular democracy movement exists inside and outside Iran.  This movement has been harshly  suppressed but definitely exists.

Israelis and American Jews must think outside the box and reach out to Iranian secular democrats who are seeking to remove this evil regime and replace it with a secular democracy at peace with Israel and the Jews.  Such an outcome would be highly beneficial to both Israelis and Iranians by removing a genocidal threat to the Jews, liberating Iranians from captivity, and restoring the ancient ties between Iranians and Jews.  Rather than allow this regime’s Jew-hatred to limit their strategic options, Israelis should work with their natural allies among Iranian secular democrats to challenge and undermine this regime.

Iranian secular democrats are actively seeking Israeli and American Jewish support for their campaign to delegitimize and overthrow this barbaric regime. Israelis and American Jews should reciprocate by standing shoulder to shoulder with Iranian secular democrats in their struggle against Shi’ite Islamist tyranny.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.