Thousands of Iranian Jews participated in the Islamic Revolution
Ayatullah Khomeini issued a fatwa that Iranian Jews are not Zionists and he recognized their support on the revolution.21 Agustus 2020 22:09
Sinagoge Haim di kawasan Simi, Ibu Kota Teheran, Iran. (Faisal Assegaf/Albalad.co)
His findings have shocked many Israeli historians believe that Iranian Jews was excluded during the Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979. Some believe that Iranian Jews had no option than took part on mass demonstrations against the Shah regime at that time.
But based on his research, Lior Sternfeld, an assistant professor of history and Jewish studies at Pennsylavia State University, found around five to 12 thousands of Jews flocked from Tehran's synagogues to protest. He wrote about his findings in a book title Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth Century Iran and published in 2018.
"They (Iranian Jews) felt pressure from the government, not as Jews, but as middle class Iranians," said Lior Sternfeld in an exclusive interview with Faisal Assegaf from Albalad.co via WhatsApp today. "When the majority fled the country, it was already after they feared that the revolution is taking a bad turn."
How could Iranian Jews support and participate in Islamic Revolution 1979?
The simple answer is that it wasn't an Islamic revolution from the get-go. It was an Iranian revolution against the Shah's dictatorship and was supported by Iranians of all walks of life.
But that revolution led by late Shia muslim Ayatullah Khomeini?
Eventually yes. But when it started it was led by many groups and organizations that had very little in common, other than the will to see another Iran. Khomeini throughout most of it was seen as a symbolic figure.
At that time, how many Jews lived in Iran. Among them, how many joined mass demonstrations?
Before the revolution there were about 80-100 thousand Jews living in Iran. Asking about numbers of participation is tricky. But we see that in the huge demonstration of 1978 about 5-12 thousand Jews in the streets.
Did they have similar feeling that they were also oppressed by the Shah regime like other Iranians or they did not have any option to flee from Iran?
This is a good question. They felt pressure from the government, not as Jews, but as middle class Iranians. When the majority fled the country, it was already after they feared that the revolution is taking a bad turn.
Did it mean Jews society at that time already integrated with other Iranians?
Absolutely. Not beyond seeing the differences, but they felt part of the non-Jewish society.
How did the government of Israel respond on Iranian Jews feel as Iranians and did not want to make Aliyah?
That was a source for frustration for many years.
Because the thought that Jews prefer to live in a muslim country and not move to Israel was hard to digest and that they see themselves part of the society?
So who did lead Jews to take part on demonstrations against the Shah regime?
A group of young Jewish radicals, mostly.
How about their rabbis?
They joined too. Some of them reluctantly.
Was there any communication or special meeting between Jews leaders with Khomeini to show their support on the Revolution?
Yes. Towards the end of 1978. I write about it in length in my book.
How did Khomeini respond on their support?
Eventually, he issued a fatwa that Iranian Jews are not Zionists and he recognized their support.
So Khomeini's guarantee that make Iranian Jews can live and worship peacefully until today?
Therefore your findings that many Jews supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran has shock many?
Due to the long enmity between Iran and Israel since the victory of the Islamic Revolution and currently open closer relations between muslim countries and Israel, do Iranian Jews still feel integrated as Iranians or they feel hatred by fellow citizens?
Mostly integrated or at least at home. Otherwise they could leave.