January 16, 2019


Unintended Consequences: In an excerpt from a new history of 20th-century Iran, the neglected story of the Jewish revolutionaries who participated in--or adapted to--the sweeping changes of 1979 (Lior B. Sternfeld, January 14, 2019, tHE tABLET)

[i]n late 1978 a delegation of the Jewish community went to Paris to meet the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. The tacit purpose of this trip was to ensure that Jews would not be regarded as enemies of the revolution but rather as its supporters. This meeting was the first of many between the Jewish leadership and Khomeini. Shortly after, the hospital received its first recognition from Khomeini: "For this reason [the humanitarian help] Imam Khomeini, before his return to Iran, had sent a letter of gratitude to the director of the hospital, recognizing his help and support for the wounded revolutionaries," said Dr. Siamak Moreh-Sedeq, one of the hospital's leaders and the current Jewish deputy in the Majlis in an interview. He described the assistance given to the revolutionaries and confirmed, once again, the story of the Shah's army siege in 1978. Receiving Khomeini's recognition is not a small feat. In many ways it secured the future of the Jews under the leadership of the revolution.

Throughout the revolutionary events, there was a continuing attempt by both revolutionary factions and the Jews to draw a clear distinction between Jews and Zionists. This would be a theme well into the early revolutionary period, but even from the time of the protest there were multiple occasions on which revolutionaries and nonrevolutionaries provided ways to tell the difference.

On Sept. 1, 1978, a few days before the escalation of Black Friday, Yousef Kohan, then the Jewish representative in the Majlis, and another member of the parliament, Ahmad Bani-Ahmad, met the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari. The purpose of this meeting was to have the respected ayatollah stopped the incitement against Jews, which was becoming a problem in some of the provinces in Iran. In his memoir, Kohan described the efforts:

At 1:30 in the afternoon of that September 1st, Bani-Ahmad called me and said, "Kohan! Put on your clothes and come to me immediately. Bring your documents with you." Those days, Bani- Ahmad was in danger, because he was seriously opposing the Shah's regime. I took the address of his secret location, which was the home of one of his fellow Azeris, and took off immediately. Outside the house, a group of tough Azerbaijanis were standing and I could tell they were armed. I asked Bani-Ahmad what was going on. "We want to go visit His Eminence Ayatollah Shari'atmadari," he answered.

In any case, all the issues were humbly reported to him on that day in Qum. The Ayatollah was inclined to proclaim that the lives of Jews were protected unless if they were agents of Israel. Bani-Ahmad recommended that "even though this is correct, but mentioning it will cause the malefactors to take the life of any Jew they want and then claim that he had been an Israeli agent. It would be better if His Eminence issued a general, unconditional and unambiguous command." Many reporters and correspondents from major international news agencies were constantly on the alert at Shari'atmadari's house with their cameras, because that location was the epicenter of Iranian politics, which was of interest to the whole world. That evening, the Iranian radio and television broadcasted this proclamation of the great Source of Emuluation of Iranian Muslims:

"Reports are reaching us that a series of written threats against religious minorities who are recognized by the Constitution and respected by the Iranian Nation, have begun under the name of the Clergy and the banner of Islam. Iranian minorities, have all the liberties and the rights imaginable for the people of Iran. On the other hand, according to the ruling of Islamic commandments, personal rights of all the people of the world and even the human rights of our enemies have been recognized. Religious Minorities, which have been identified in the Constitution, have been shoulder to shoulder with the struggle of the Iranian nation as far as I remember. They accompanied the people in every step of the momentous events of the Constitutional Revolution. I shall never accept the smallest threat or intimidation against them under the name of Islam. In fact I consider such actions as an anti-Iranian and anti Islamic conspiracy. We must know that irresponsible people with missions of sabotage are on the prowl and are hoping to spread the seeds of hate and disunity."

Such a proclamation from a prominent religious leader like Ayatollah Shari'atmadari was a major achievement for the Jewish leadership and in fact was crucial at a moment when Israel was brought up more often as part of the anti-Shah slogans and some Iranians could not tell the difference between Jews, Zionists, and Israelis.

Later that month, during the events of Black Friday it was rumored that the Shah deployed Israeli soldiers to confront the protesters. This rumor, of course, had no basis, but it promptly became an issue demanding attention on behalf of the Jewish leadership.

In the 2013 documentary Before the Revolution: The Untold Story of the Israeli Paradise in Iran, Nissim Levy, one of the Israeli embassy's security officers, recalls that as he drove through the streets of Tehran right before the ultimate victory of the revolution, he saw graffiti that read, "Kill Every Israeli--But Do Not Harm the Jews."

Shortly after the 'Ashura events, the revolution took a dramatic turn when on Jan. 15, 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left Iran for good. "Shah Raft" (The Shah left), announced the newspapers the next day to the overjoyed crowds, and about two weeks later they announced that the Imam had arrived (Imam amad). All major minority groups came to the airport to welcome Ayatollah Khomeini back to Iran. The Jewish delegation coordinated their participation with another prominent leader of the revolutionary movement, Ayatollah Mohammad Bihishti.

After the installation of the new regime, the hospital encountered controversy. Jalali states, "One night after the revolution they called me to tell that a group of people from the regime came and changed the name of the hospital to 'Khusraw Golisurkhi Hospital.' A member of the left, Gol-isurkhi had been executed by the Shah.It took us a long time, together with Parviz Yesha'ya to change it to Dr. Sapir Hospital." Simin, Sapir's relative, explained how they petitioned the government to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir: "I collected evidence from people that got treatment in the hospital, collected newspaper stories, letters from clerics about the hospital during the revolution, and gave it to them in a big box. After a short discussion they pronounced him a shahid, a martyr of the revolution, and ordered to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir Hospital."

This episode of the name change became significant as the Jewish community retained management of the hospital and the government acknowledged the role the hospital had played during the revolution. Still today, at the entrance to the hospital, there is a sign welcoming patients, staff, and visitors. The sign reads, in Hebrew and Persian, "Love thy neighbor as yourself " (Hebrew: Ve'ahavta le're'acha kamocha; Persian: Hamnow'at ra mesl-i khodet dust bedar), and this essentially captures the philosophy of this hospital from the days it was established by Sapir and onward.

Posted by at January 16, 2019 7:24 PM