LA’s Persian Jews root for democracy in their native land
A wounded protester near a rally in Teheran. (Photo: AP)
Sam Kermanian is watching the election drama unfold in his native Iran with great interest and pride.
The Los Angeles resident and former secretary-general of the Iranian Jewish American Federation was shocked, he said, by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statements on Friday that the June 12 vote was not rigged and that opposition leaders would be held responsible for any “bloodshed and chaos” resulting from future street protests.
However, “it appears that the people of Iran have decided that they are not going to surrender to Khamenei’s threats,” Kermanian said Saturday, as news of defiant protests on the streets of Teheran were slowly filtering in.
“Those who went out to protest today are doing so directly against Khamenei’s orders… I’m really proud of the people who are acting so bravely to come out and demand their rights, knowing that they could be paying a very high cost.”
Kermanian is one of an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Persian Jews living in the Los Angeles area. Some in this tight-knit and prosperous community, comprised of a mix of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews, have responded to recent events by attending local demonstrations against the Iranian regime.
Others are observing from afar, often bombarded with electronic updates by their children or other young relatives who have never set foot in their parent’s birthplace but are taking an unprecedented interest in the country’s affairs.
Some Persian Jews here say they are consciously maintaining a low profile, citing concerns about potential ramifications their statements could have for loved ones still living in Iran.
But it is clear the vast majority, if not all, of LA’s Persian Jewish community – and in each in their own way – is rooting, ultimately, for democracy.
The local community supports democracy in Iran and “if possible, without violence,” Kermanian said.
“The people of Iran have spoken and are willing to stand up for it, but I don’t think that the demonstrators are using violent tactics,” said Kermanian, who noted that he was speaking as a private person. “The choice of whether it will be violent or not will be with the regime and the security forces.”
Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles book publisher, said he was hopeful that the Islamic Republic – which has long discriminated against Jews and other minorities – would be overthrown.
The recent events in Iran “could be the real beginning of a revolution,” he said last week.
Under the Iranian constitution, only Shi’ite Muslims are allowed to become a candidate for presidency, Khalili said. He also recalls Jewish students having to attend school on Shabbat.
And as a Persian Jew, he is against the Islamic Republic’s policies against Israel, he said.
Khalili said he is attending daily demonstrations in front of the US Federal Building in Los Angeles to protest the Iranian election results and the regime. The protests, he said, have attracted several hundred people each evening and have lasted as long as four hours.
He is also forwarding e-mails he has received from Iranian activists inside the country that include updates on unfolding events there, such as the killing of protesters at “a peaceful demonstration” and a raid at Teheran University dormitory that allegedly left several students dead. One such e-mail was punctuated with the phrase: “Viva Freedom. Viva Democracy. Viva Iran.”
Information on the protests has been largely curbed since the regime has banned foreign journalists from rallies and street coverage.
Khalili witnessed the country’s 1979 revolution and like many Iranian Jews, initially thought that it would bring Iran real democracy. But he soon distanced himself from revolutionary activities as it began to adopt an Islamic and non-democratic face.
Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad said he believed that there could be a silver lining to the election results in his native Iran.
“I have a feeling that it’s even better for the Jewish community, for America and for Israel,” Delshad, who is Jewish and has previously served as the city’s mayor, told the Post last week.
Had a leader other than Ahmadinejad been proclaimed president, the international community may have given the new leader more time to see how he would respond to efforts to curb their nuclear ambitions. Now, however, the regime’s intentions are clear.
“We know their plans. They are going to really go for their nuclear weapons and not their nuclear energy,” he said.
Secondly, it is a wake-up call to Iranian Muslims – who may have accepted Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denial and virulent anti-Israel statements – that their government is in fact cheating them.
“What [the Iranian regime] did, is they undermined their own supreme power, they undermined their own credibility at the very, very top. I think they are standing on loose sand and they will crumble,” Delshad said.
Since Ahmadinejad’s regime is the primary regime behind Hizbullah and Hamas as well as on attacks on American troops in Iraq, it is important for moderate Muslims to “jump on the bandwagon and defeat them.”
“I’m hoping this velvet revolution will continue and become bigger and bigger, even if they subdued some people for a while,” he said.