During my recent visit to Iran, I spent time with the country’s Jewish community. While undoubtedly experiencing some forms of discrimination, the ones I met had no desire to move to Israel or the US and resented offers to convince them to do so. Iranian Jewry has a 3000-year history and, as Jonathan Cook reports, Israel may well feel compelled to use them as political fodder:
But if financial enticements — and a possible popular backlash — fail to move Iranian Jews, there is good reason to fear that Israel may resort to other, more dubious ways of encouraging them to emigrate. That is certainly a path Israel has chosen before with other communities of Arab Jews, whom it has regarded either as a pool of potential spies and agents provocateurs to be used when needed or as “human dust”, in the words of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, to be recruited to Israel’s “demographic battle” against the Palestinians.
In “Operation Susannah” of 1954, for example, Israel recklessly recruited a group of Egyptian Jews to stage a series of explosions in Egypt in a bid to discourage Britain from withdrawing from the Suez Canal zone. When the plot came to light, it naturally cast a shadow of disloyalty over Egypt’s wider Jewish community. Following Israel’s invasion and occupation of Sinai two years later, the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled some 25,000 Egyptian Jews and, after others were imprisoned on suspicion of spying, the rest soon left.
Even more notoriously, Israel went to greater lengths to ensure the exit of the Arab world’s largest Jewish population, in Iraq. In 1950 a series of bombs targeted on Jews in Baghdad forced a rapid exodus of some 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel, convinced that Arab extremists were behind the attacks. Only later did it emerge that the bombs had been planted by members of the Zionist underground, supported by the Israeli government.
Now, Iran’s Jews may find themselves treated in much the same manner — as simple human fodder. Stories are growing of Israel exploiting the free movement between Iran and Israel enjoyed by Iranian Jews and their Israeli relatives to carry out spying operations on Iran’s nuclear programme. Such reports have come from reliable sources such as the American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, citing US government officials.
As much as the Jewish community wants to ignore this reality, Iran is not an existential threat to Israel. Cook concludes:
“More important than the welfare of Iranian Jewish families, it seems, is the value of Iranian Jews as a propaganda tool in Israel’s battle to persuade the world that coexistence with the Muslim world is impossible”