Why do Iranian Jews reject Israel

A home away from home

Many Iranians living in Israel want regime change in Tehran, but they don't want war. Their stance contrasts with the war rhetoric between Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad.

"If Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad have a problem with each other, they should break their own heads and leave us alone," says an Iranian from Netanya, a coastal city in Israel. He has just called the Persian-language radio Ran in Tel Aviv and gives his opinion. He hoped that the saber rattling between Israel and Iran would not be followed by war. Then he hangs up and the moderator Rani Amrani takes another call. The wires in the small radio studio are hot. The speculations about a possible military strike in Israel have been heating up the minds for weeks.

Second class citizen

Radio Ran's sparsely furnished recording studio is in a sleepy corner in north Tel Aviv. An Israeli flag hangs on the wall, next to it the old Persian flag, as it looked before the Islamic Republic of Iran. The radio presenter Amrani escaped to Israel in 1991 when he was 14 years old. Here, thanks to his Jewish roots, he was welcomed with open arms and financially supported. Before entering the radio business, he studied dentistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Like many Jewish Iranians, Amrani's parents did not want to give their child a Jewish name for fear of discrimination. Although there are more than 20,000 Jews in Iran, making them the largest Jewish community outside Israel in the Islamic world, they are disadvantaged in many ways. They are second class citizens. For example, they have little chance of getting a job in the civil service, let alone working in courts or school boards. It is therefore often tried to hide the Jewish roots and to give the descendants either purely Persian or foreign names. So Amrani's parents baptized him Rodney - in Hebrew pronunciation Radni, which at some point resulted in Rani. This is what the 36-year-old recounts in the car on the way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to the Radio Ran recording studio. At the wheel he shaves, drinks coffee and speaks to his mother on the phone.

Monarchy versus theocracy

Every Friday, Amrani hosts a program that is repeated several times a week at different times and also broadcast to the world over the Internet. The target audience is the Iranian diaspora, the largest in California with 600,000 exiled Iranians worldwide. But also many listeners in Iran, Sweden, France, Germany and especially in Israel know Radio Ran, whose independence they appreciate. According to a count, around 500,000 listeners tune in to the show every month. Their success is not least due to the former actress Shahnaz Tehrani, who leads through the two-hour program together with Amrani. She was a popular television star in Iran in the 1970s and starred in over 125 films. Even today, secular young people in Iran watch their films because the productions in the Islamic Republic are too modest.

After the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, the mullahs who had risen to power imposed the death penalty on Tehrani for their pro-Western stance. First she fled to the USA and later emigrated to Israel, where she quickly gained a foothold as a Jew. "Only the Shah's son can make Iran back to what it used to be," says Tehrani, straightening her miniskirt. She is one of those supporters of the monarchy who would love to turn back the clock to 1979, when Iran was still ruled by kings. This is also borne out by the gold-framed but faded photo of Persia's former Shah Reza Pahlevi, which is prominently on the table in the radio studio. The fact that he also ruled the country with dictatorial means puts it into perspective. "Anyone who didn't get involved in politics was allowed to be free as a bird," she says. Every night she thinks of Persia. What is special about the Iranian community in Israel is its strong bond with the culture and history of their home country. "Even second and third generation descendants who were born in Israel speak Farsi and are interested in Iran," says Tehrani.

The radio show deals with a wide variety of topics, exchanges recipes, tells jokes, recites poems and plays secular music. Since the war rhetoric between Iran and Israel has intensified in recent weeks, there has also been increased talk of politics. "Because reporting in Iran is censored, many Persians from Iran call themselves and want to find out more," says Amrani. They call with phone cards or on the internet so their numbers cannot be traced. During the nationwide protests against Iranian President Ahmadinejad in 2009, Radio Ran became an important mouthpiece for activists. On the phone, the eyewitnesses told of the violence with which the peaceful demonstrators were cracked down.

"The radio is a good medium because you can also listen to it with a weak Internet connection," says Amrani, referring to the so-called filter breakers that are used in Iran to bypass censorship, but which affect the speed of the Internet. Radio programs operated abroad and received in Iran would play an important role in supporting democratic movements in Tehran, the radio makers stress. Above all, they want to be in contact with their compatriots and not just act as an extension of a political opposition in the diaspora. You like to emphasize that you are apolitical. The operation of Radio Ran is financed exclusively by advertising money, which is why independent reporting can be guaranteed. The second Israeli radio broadcasting in Farsi is different: The Radis program belongs to Kol Israel (the voice of Israel), Israel's public broadcaster. The program is directed by the experienced Iranian journalist Menashe Amir and follows Netanyahu's line in many respects. In Radis it is mentioned again and again that the threat to Israel from the Iranian atomic bomb should be taken seriously. "The threatening gestures of a country as powerful as Iran must be responded to," said Menashe Amir in his last broadcast. However, he advises against Israel going it alone, even if he does not rule out a preventive strike if the sanctions do not bear fruit.

Between chair and bench

The majority of Iranians in Israel want regime change in Tehran, but opinions differ on how to achieve this. Some of them believe that an outside military attack could sweep the mullahs out of power. This view trickles through to individual callers from Israel who comment on this topic on Radio Ran. «The uprising against Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009 was unsuccessful. Perhaps Israel will achieve more, ”says an Iranian who lives in Holon. Most of the Jewish Persians live in this coastal city in the south of Tel Aviv.

That Israel or the USA could overthrow the mullah regime and bring democracy to the Iranians is a widespread wishful thinking within the Iranian diaspora, whose members long to return to their homeland after years of exile. The fact that a war in this region would have devastating effects is ignored. Iranian and Israeli intellectuals agree that Iran can and must only be democratized from within. Most Iranians in Israel also oppose war because they have strong ties to both countries. "Iran and Israel are like mother and father to me," said a caller from Hadera, a city in northern Israel. He believes that the Iranian nuclear program is only being used by the governments of the two states as an excuse to divert attention from their domestic political and economic problems. If a war broke out, he would not be able to take either side. "An attack by Israel on Iran is also an attack by Israel on part of Jewish history," said another caller from Jerusalem, referring to the large Jewish community in Iran.

The two peoples of Israel and Iran are actually much closer than the politicians of the two states often claim. Not only did the Iranians understand how to integrate themselves perfectly into Israeli society. The two peoples also have in common that they define themselves through the past and view Arab culture as backward compared to their own. In addition, many Sephardi (Jews of oriental origin) take anti-Arab positions because they want to signal that they belong to Israeli society. "We are two peoples with mutual sympathy, even if the governments claim the opposite," says Amrani. His statement is confirmed on a walk through Holon. Persian spices, typical tablecloths and silver cutlery from Isfahan and carpets from Shiraz are sold in the market. Numerous inns such as the famous Shamshiri restaurant chain offer Iranian specialties. You have created a home here far from home, says Amrani. The radio is a means of being in contact with one another across borders until the governments recognize and enter into the alliance that has existed between the two peoples for a long time.