In the current climate of the Iranian government’s antagonism toward Israel, the remaining Jewish population of Iran, which numbers perhaps 9,000, is caught in complex circumstances. Iran’s Jewish community has to be extremely cautious of showing any sympathy toward Israel. If they exhibit any sign of this, they risk serious criminal charges, such as being labeled an Israeli spy. Consequences of these charges range from torture to death.
Each word spoken, each action taken, and all movement throughout the community is calculated and evaluated carefully to prevent these consequences. Still, this is not enough. The government authorities intervene in the few Jewish schools that remain. Jews are not allowed to become school principals. The curriculum has changed, and activities are monitored to make sure, for example, that the main language is Persian and not Hebrew. Distribution of Hebrew texts or the teaching of Judaism is risky and strongly discouraged.
Even within school walls, the Jewish community cannot expect any form of safety or freedom. Current restrictions and discriminatory policies against Jews include bans against Jewish people in key governmental and significant decision-making positions: A Jewish person can’t be a member of the influential Guardian Council, a commander in the army, or serve as the president of the nation, among other restrictions. Jews are not permitted to become a judge at any level or assist in the judicial or legislative systems. Furthermore, Jews are banned from becoming members of parliament (the Consultative Assembly) through general elections.
A service in an Iranian synagogue
Jews are not allowed to inherit from Muslims. But, if one member of a Jewish family converts to Islam, he would inherit everything. This law seems to be designed to promote conversion to Islam by providing financial incentives.
There exist several forms of discrimination in the penal code as well. Qisas, or the right to equal justice, has not been specified in the penal code for the Jewish people. For example, if a Jew kills a Muslim, the family of the victim has the right to ask for execution as a penalty, but if a Muslim kills a Jew, the right of a family member to demand the execution of the murderer would be left to the discretion of the judges.
Iran’s constitution lays out in detail the protections for practicing and preaching Islam, but not for Judaism. Article 12 of the Iranian Constitution states:
The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school, and this principle will remain eternally immutable. Other Islamic schools are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites. These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law. In regions of the country where Muslims following any one of these schools constitute the majority, local regulations, within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils, are to be in accordance with the respective school of fiqh, without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other [Islamic] schools.One might wonder how Iranian leaders dare to boast about equality between Jews and others while intimidating entire segments of its population into silence under laws that are manifestly unequal. To further insult the communities, they claim that Jews remain in Iran because they are treated equally. The impression is given that the Iranian government has created such a welcoming space for its Jewish community that they would freely choose to live there. There is no mention of the vast majority of people that have fled the oppressive laws and policies and settled in other countries for the sake of their physical safety.
So who stays in Iran? Some of the Jews who have stayed in Iran are elderly and unable to tolerate travel or establishing a new home in a foreign country. Some Jews are determined to protect their sacred places and synagogues, or family homes.
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