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Copyright © 1999, by the Middle East DataProject, Inc. All rights reserved.

Issue No. 62, Sept. 6, 1999

Plot Thickens around Iranian Jews (Serial 6202 -Excerpts)


Efforts to gain the freedom of the 13 Shirazi Jews, arrested inApril and accused in June of spying for Israel, has aroused an olddilemma within the Iranian Jewish Diaspora of whether to use quietdiplomacy and bribes to get them out, or to make their plight a causecelebre, embarrassing the regime into letting them go.

On the quiet side have been the efforts of Sam Kermanian, whoheads the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, anestablishment group of older and relatively wealthy Iranian exiles.As soon as he received word of the arrests in April, Mr. Kermaniansought to win their release through intermediaries in close contactwith the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS), Iran'sintelligence service, with whom his group had established a channelof communication in recent years.

Once the French Press Agency broke the news of the Jews' arrest,in a May 30 report, advocates of turning the 13 Jews into a publiccause gained ground. They are being led by Pooya Dayanim, a lawyer inSanta Monica, the co-founder of the Committee for Religious MinorityRights in Iran and spokesman for the Council of Iranian JewishOrganizations. The Council, which has a much wider following than theFederation, primarily appeals to the younger generation ofIranians.

The debate turned acrimonious in July, when it became know thatthe Federation quietists had successfully hushed up earlier incidentsinvolving eleven Iranian Jews who went missing while attempting toflee Iran illegally between 1994 and 1997. None of the eleven hasbeen seen since. New York Jewish Week (8/27) reported that theearlier, hitherto unknown incidents were exposed at a July 8 meetingin Los Angeles, where parents of two of the missing Jews accusedIranian-American Jewish leaders of doing nothing to discover theirfate.

Most of the eleven are from Tehran, and disappeared during fourseparate attempts to flee Iran. Each attempt, said Jewish Week,involved others who succeeded in leaving the country.

Frank Nikbakht, an activist for the Council, told Jewish Week thatthe Iranian American Jewish Federation for years had a policy of"keeping people silent so that there would not be anything againstthe regime from this community." Mr. Nikbakht and other activistsclaimed that five Jews have been executed in Iran over the last fiveyears despite the cooperation of Kermanian's Federation with theregime. He urged the community to take a more critical andconfrontational approach.

In another, previously unpublicized attack on Iranian Jews, theIranian authorities were said to have bulldozed headstones at aJewish cemetery in the city of Mashad, according to Moshe Zvuluni, aMashadi Jew now living in Israel. Speaking on Israel radio lastmonth, Zvuluni said an Iranian Jew who went to visit hisgrandfather's grave at the cemetery told him that all headstones hadbeen bulldozed in the middle of the night two weeks ago, bust thatthe bones were not removed. "They didn't leave a single grave,"Zvuluni said (AP 8/16).

London lawyer: Details of alleged negotiationsbetween Kermanian's faction and the Iranian regime were exposed byRonen Bergman in the English-language edition of Ha'aretz on Aug. 19.He claimed that the regime's efforts to exploit the Iranian-AmericanJewish community began at least four years ago, when IntelligenceMinister Ali Fallahian decided the regime needed to open a channel.Fallahian put a middle-ranking MOIS official named Hussain Saderzadehin charge of the contacts, according to Bergman. Mr. Saderzadehultimately made contact in London with a Jewish lawyer of Iranianorigin, Hamid Sabi, who became his principle interlocutor with Mr.Kermanian's group in Los Angeles.

Contacted by the Iran Brief, Mr. Sabi angrily challenged Bergman'smotives, and refused to comment on the details of his story. Heacknowledged, however, that he continued to serve as the overseaslawyer for Noushab Manufacturing Company in Iran, a competitor of theBonyad-e Mostazafan which has been suing Coca Cola for breach ofcontract for cutting off supplies to Coke's proprietary syrup. "Yes,I am their lawyer," he said. The Noushab tie gave him access tohigh-ranking Iranian government officials. He said he has not beenback to Iran since the Revolution.....

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