Small World

Jewish World Review May 8, 2000 / 3 Iyar, 5760

Justice is on Trial in Iran

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- ALL YOU HAD TO DO was look at Hamid Tefileen's terrified face to see that his "confession" was less than voluntary, his "guilt" more than questionable.

Tefileen is one of 13 Iranian Jews being tried behind closed doors for treason — charges most foreign observers in Tehran dismiss as trumped up. Nonetheless, the other day, officials in the Iranian city of Shiraz paraded Tefileen before government TV cameras (without his lawyer present).

"I am charged with being a spy for Israel," announced the 31-year-old, a salesman in his father's shoe store. "I admit to that charge."

In fact, while Iran's ayatollahs claim Tefileen and the others were trained by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence corps, "to get information from Muslims," the only crime the Shiraz 13 may be guilty of is some innocent but clandestine contact with relatives living in the Jewish state.

To put it plainly, this is a show trial being put on by Iran's archconservatives to undermine the recent electoral advances of the country's reformists under President Mohammad Khatami. And what better scapegoats than a few local Jews?

The Persian Jewish community goes back thousands of years — remember the story of Queen Esther? Seeing the writing on the wall, many Iranian Jews left in the years before or since the Islamic revolution of 1979. The 30,000 who remain are citizens of a country where hatred of Israel is so much a national dogma that Jews are sometimes restricted in teaching their children the sacred Hebrew language.

Of course, it's not much fun either to be an Iranian Christian, a member of the Baha'i faith or even a Muslim who doesn't adhere to the strictures of the ayatollahs and their flunkies. Which brings me to my main point: No matter what the wishful thinkers in Washington tell us, there's not a lot that has fundamentally changed in Iran.

Yes, the followers of Iran's reformist president won strong positions during recent parliamentary elections. But the Seekers of Change have little real power. It is the extremist camp — led by the likes of Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani — that actually determines policies and controls crucial areas of government.

Trakdata The Iranian court system and the state broadcasting authority, for example, are parts of the ultraconservative bailiwick. And there's been no visible lessening of Iranian support for global terrorism.

What's more, the mullahs have questioned the election results and delayed the next round of voting. They've also had 16 newspapers closed and journalists arrested — including the president's brother, Reza Khatami. There are also dangerous warnings from Iran's extremist Revolutionary Guards; reformists, one radical right-wing group announced, will soon have to "begin writing their wills."

Historically, response to anti-Semitism is a litmus test of justice. The trial of the Iranian Jews is important not only because 13 apparently innocent lives are at stake, but because hope for Iran's future is at stake. Let everyone in the world demand real justice.

And let the mullahs be warned that they're playing with fire!

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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