By Track Persia

April 22, 2019

Among the most ancient populations that have resided Persia and taken it as their homeland for many centuries are the Jews. Nonetheless, the number of Jewish communities living in this part of the world has been significantly declining. A recent estimate of their number has reached about 12000, though, in comparison to the Jewish communities living in other countries in the Middle East, this figure is high.  However, this figure is not an indication that the Jews in Iran are presently living in a better situation.

For centuries, the Iranian Jews have been predominately living in major cities such as Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan. In some periods, they suffered various waves of discrimination and sectarian massacres.

Since the success of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, that overthrew the Shah, Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in Iran have been facing growing threats to their own existence. The Iranian regime is based on a fundamentalist Shiite doctrine called ‘wilayat al-faqih’, which means the authority of a cleric to rule. This Shiite theory which was later developed by the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini allows the Supreme Leader of Iran, currently Khomeini’s successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to hold absolute powers recognised by Iran’s constitution.

Unlike, the regime under the Shah, the current regime in the Islamic Republic is not founded on the pan-Iranianism or Iranian identity, but is rather based on a radical form of Twelver Shiism that used to construct the unity amongst Iranians, even though they are of different faiths. This policy proved to be a strategic failure because it leads Iran’s minorities to feel they are excluded and marginalised, even among those who had initially sympathized with the young Islamic Revolution in its early years.

The early period that followed the success of the Islamic Revolution witnessed a wave of killings, persecution of religious minorities, confiscations of their religious centres and restrictions on their religious activities by revolutionists and protagonists, who gradually realised that the impacts of these practices towards minorities could have impacts on the reputation of the new theocratic regime.  Nonetheless, the marginalisation policy against these minorities has not completely stopped, as a result, there have been growing immigration of Iranian minorities, including the Jewish communities.

Furthermore, the Iranian Jews who were unable to leave the country could not prevent facing calumniations and discriminations despite their life in the post-revolutionary era was secularly inclined. In order to survive these threats and the resentments practised towards them within the majority Shiite Muslim population, the Iranian Jews have been pursuing survival mechanisms presented in the manifestation of their loyalty to the Iranian theocratic regime. One of the key survival mechanisms to survive is a Shiite-invented doctrine called taqqiyya (denial of real intention), which is practised heavily by Iran’s elite and it is also reflected in the regime’s foreign policy.

Iran’s minorities have realised that they can utilise taqqiyya to hide their real thoughts which are prohibitive under the regime in Iran. One of the Jews’ manifestations of practising taqqiyya is when the Jewish communities demonstrate their sympathy towards the Islamic Revolution at the celebrations of the annual anniversary of the success of the Islamic Revolution with their predominantly-Shiite compatriots. This occasion obliges the Iranian Jews to express their allegiance to the theocracy in Iran by glorifying the Islamic Revolution and condemning Israel and the United States. However, this practice by Iran’s Jewry cannot be interpreted as an acceptance of the theocratic authority.

The discrimination policy practised toward the Jews in Iran is manifested in various shapes, one of which is preventing them from being involved in some apparatus that their Shiite Muslims can join. Additionally, there have been restrictive rules governing applications for government jobs which consequently have become exclusively available for the majority Shiite Muslims, even jobs such as teaching at state educational and academic institutions.  These restrictions also have included highly qualified minorities including the Jews.

Nonetheless, living under persecution and resentment does not prevent the Jewish communities from accentuating their religious values and solidifying their cultural identity. These are manifested in their inclination to orthodoxy and conservatism, more importantly, they have become more religious.  Strengthening their religious identity and preserving their values can be attributed to the long decades of practising social marginalization by various dynasties and rulers against them.

Nonetheless, proceeding the Islamic Revolution, it was not rare to notice there was sort of religious tolerance and coexistence between Iranian Jews and non-Jews reflected in some cases of intermarriages and conversion to Islam, though some see these cases can pose elementary dangers that can lead to the decline of the remaining Jews in Iran

With the inception of the Islamic Revolution, however, there has been prevalent calumniation targeted the Jews labelling them as being spies of foreign imperialistic powers, in particular, Israel, Zionism or the United States. Subsequently, the Iranian Jewish communities can be accused of committing treason if they sympathise with their fellows in Israel which the regime in Tehran overtly sees as an oppressive state that has committed crimes against the Palestinians and it was established by expelling them from their homeland.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.