“Persians of Israel” defy Iranian tensions to cultivate dialogue with Iranians | Voice of America

Amid long-standing and growing tensions between Israel and Iran, some prominent Israelis of Persian descent have engaged in low-profile contacts with the Iranian people and have called for the revival of the historic friendship between the two powers. from the Middle-East.

These Israelis are part of the only Persian diaspora community in the world located in a country that Iranian Islamist leaders have banned their citizens from contacting. They spoke about their conversations with the Iranian people and their hopes for reconciliation as part of VOA’s Persians of Israel documentary series which was filmed in 2017 and posted online on Friday.

Israelis featured in the series include veteran journalist Menashe Amir, who has been broadcasting in Iran in Farsi via radio and online for six decades; Rita, one of Israel’s most famous pop stars; Dorit Rabinyan, a novelist recognized internationally for her writings on the romances of young Persian women and on a Judeo-Muslim couple who break taboos; and Dan Halutz, who led the IDF through two of its most difficult operations of the 2000s.

The Persian-Israeli community to which they belong numbers around 300,000, according to community members, out of a total Israeli population of 8.7 million. It began to form in the 1920s and 1930s, when a small number of minority Jews from Iran migrated to the British Mandate of Palestine to fulfill the desire to live in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 as a modern-day Jewish homeland attracted many more Iranian Jews: 21,000 in the first three years, according to the Israeli government.

Iran was among Israel’s first friends. It was the second Muslim-majority nation to recognize Israel’s independence, in 1950, after Turkey did the same in 1949.

Iran and Israel were united by a common goal: to resist the rise of Arab nationalists backed by the Soviet Union. The two nations also shared an alliance with the United States.

As Israeli-Iranian ties deepened, 35,000 more Jews emigrated from Iran to Israel from 1952 to 1971. During those years, Israel helped Iran develop its agriculture and armed forces, while Iran helped Israel meet its energy needs by exporting oil to Jews. State. But Iran has kept the relationship low-key, refusing to open an embassy or post an ambassador to Israel.

The Iranian-Israeli partnership quickly collapsed after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, which brought Islamist clerics hostile to Israel to power.

FILE – In an undated photo from 1979, protesters burn an effigy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi during a protest outside the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran.

In the 1980s, Iran began arming Islamist militants such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah and encouraged them to attack Israel. While Iran’s Islamist constitution recognized Judaism as a minority religion, Iranian authorities also imposed restrictions on Jewish life. Such policies prompted tens of thousands of additional Iranian Jews to escape what they saw as an oppressive Islamist regime. Most of them migrated to the United States, while 8,000 moved to Israel in the 1980s and several thousand more did the same in the 1990s and 2000s.

Waves of Jewish migration from Iran have reduced its Jewish population to around 9,000 to 15,000, according to estimates by the U.S. State Department Report 2020 on International Religious Freedom. There were around 85,000 Jews in Iran at the start of the Islamic Revolution, according to the Iranica Encyclopedia.

Iranian leaders have stepped up their verbal threats against Israel in recent decades, calling for its destruction or demise. They also alarmed Israel by continuing what the International Atomic Energy Agency called a nuclear weapons program until 2003. Israel, an undeclared nuclear power, accused Iran of secretly continuing this program and called it an existential threat that could prompt the Jewish state to take military action in self-defense.

Tehran has denied ever trying to build nuclear bombs under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.

Iran and Israel have also been engaged in what some observers call a shadow war in recent years. Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian military sites in Syria; Israel shot down what it said were two Iranian drones that entered its airspace; Israeli and Iranian ships in Middle Eastern waters have been hit by explosions that each side blamed the other; Iran blamed a major blackout at its Natanz nuclear site in April on alleged Israeli sabotage; and Iran has seen its top nuclear scientist and a high-ranking Al-Qaida operative murdered in its territory in attacks attributed to Israel in 2020 by Iranian officials and Western media respectively.

This shadow war escalated in May when the armed and Iranian-funded Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets at Israel, which carried out hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes. targeting Hamas militants, weapons, tunnels and other infrastructure. The fighting lasted for 11 days until Egypt negotiated a ceasefire.

The Iranian government, which has long decried Israel as a perceived enemy of the Persian nation, also passed a law last year authorizing harsher sentences and prison terms for Iranians found to have had “non-accidental” contact with Israelis.

Amir, the Israeli broadcaster, said he and his Iranian-based listeners who have called his programs over the past decades have challenged Tehran’s efforts to block dialogue between Israelis and Iranians.

Persians of Israel: Menashe Amir (Part 1 – The voice of Israel in Farsi to Iran)

Amir also brought western-based Iranian Muslims to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center to brief them on the 20th century genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and to combat efforts by Iranian leaders to deny or downplay it. .

Persians of Israel: Menashe Amir (Part 2 – Combating Holocaust Denial with Yad Vashem)

Israeli pop star Rita said her 2012 Farsi-language debut album All My Joys inspired her to become a cultural ambassador to Iranians who reached out to her online and in person to share their love for her. music.

Persians of Israel: Rita

Rabinyan, the Israeli author, said she unexpectedly developed an Iranian readership after discovering that her first novel, Persian Brides, had been translated into Farsi and published in Iran without her knowledge. She expressed the hope that these readers will hear her desire for peace.

Former Israeli military leader Halutz, who visited pre-revolution Iran as part of a pilot training course in 1972, said he did not foresee a si early. But he said a dialogue between moderates on both sides would be a good way to start the process.

This article originates from The Persian service of VOA.

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