'A Separation' publicity still

I believe that an Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous for Israel and also bad for the US, but Israel needs to be reassured that its existence is not on the line. It’s up to Iran to step back from its belligerent posturing and policies against Israel, in order to alleviate the crisis atmosphere.

Hopefully, an intelligent application of diplomacy and sanctions can persuade Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency to assure that its nuclear facilities are only used for peaceful purposes; still, in this coming week’s visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington, the US and Israel must get on the same page. The US needs to prevent Israel from launching a preemptive attack, but this can only be done if Israel knows that the US has its back when it comes to deterring Iran.

I wrote this in a recent post:

Ten years ago, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran and still a leading figure now associated with reformist elements in the Islamic Republic, chillingly speculated that since “the Islamic World” is so much larger than Israel, it could destroy the Jewish state in a nuclear war and survive (“the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything“). This reinforced Israeli concerns that some Shi’ite religious fanatics in the Iranian leadership may believe in a theological doomsday scenario, which would invite a horribly destructive war with “infidels.” The threat that Israelis sense from Iran is logical—augmented further by Iranian allies inhabiting three of Israel’s borders (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Assad in Syria) ….

I’ve heard that the Islamic Republic couldn’t stop itself from touting “A Separation,” Iran’s winning submission for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language category, as a victory over “Zionism” for triumphing over Israel’s “The Footnote” and three other contenders. No thanks to the regime’s censors, the Iranian film industry has long earned well-deserved international acclaim for its artistry. Israel’s film industry is also outstanding but not lucky in this venue, with “The Footnote” being the tiny Jewish state’s fourth Oscar finalist in the last five years (with no cigar as of yet).

In contrast to his government, the Iranian director showed class and grace in his acceptance speech and in his general behavior in his visit to LA for this Hollywood extravaganza. This is how the JTA news service put it:

Director-writer Asghar Farhadi of “A Separation,” which centered on the conflict of a husband and wife in a complex and difficult society, struck a note of international conciliation in his acceptance speech. He spoke of his country’s “rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics,” and of his countrymen as “people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
In a backstage interview, Farhadi heaped special praise on Poland’s Agnieszka Holland, the director of “In Darkness,” describing her as “a great director, a great filmmaker and a great human being.” Holland’s Jewish father’s parents were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. …

A NY Times op-ed by a Jewish-Iranian-American, Roya Hakakian, “Iran and Israel Share Bonds,” is an eloquent plea for the two countries to back away from their conflict. In a radio interview, she recalls that as a young person growing up in Iran, the regime attempted to popularize Judeophobia; but her experience with Muslim Iranians is that most simply didn’t buy it:

[National Public Radio host, Scott] SIMON: What’s your impression, Roya, of how the attitude of many Iranians may have changed in the post-revolutionary era towards Jews?
HAKAKIAN: …. We think that the attitude of ordinary Iranians have changed towards Jews, but it’s really the attitude of the Iranian government that suddenly changed. When I was in high school in Iran in the mid ’80s, in the bathrooms in my high school were segregated, Muslims and non-Muslims. And those are not the desires of my ordinary classmates, or even the principals or the administrators in the school. Those were the very regulations that the new regime was trying to implement.
They were trying to provoke the public into acts of anti-Semitism. And what I find stunning is that the majority of the public simply didn’t go for it. You can, of course, cite examples of anti-Semitic acts that go on in Iran to this day. But what is really important to note is that the public tries to steer clear of what the regime is inciting.
SIMON: Do you worry about friends of yours who were Jews in Iran at the moment?
HAKAKIAN: Sure, I do. I think an attack by Israel, by the United States on Iran can really jeopardize the safety of Jews in Iran, for sure. But I also think that it’s very important to put this in the context of what’s going on in Iran today. If you have to compare what is worse to be in Iran today: Is it worse to be a Jew or is it worse to be a member of a secular opposition group? I would say the latter. I mean you’re not talking about an ideal civil situation from which Jews fall away. You’re talking about circles that can be farther or closer to hell.
But I think what’s probably reassuring is that when a Jewish neighbor looks to his left and right, he’s very likely to see that he is in between two other neighbors, most likely Muslims, who are as unhappy and dissatisfied with the situation in Iran and with the regime as he or she is. When the degree of dissatisfaction and discontent is so vast and so generalized that, in and of itself, creates a sense of safety.

At the same time, however, Hakakian recalls in her Times essay that political activists enforced their uncompromisingly “politically correct” anti-Israel view upon her as a “progressive”:

In the early 1980s in Tehran, a small group of socialist intellectuals who clandestinely gathered in an apartment every Thursday evening let me into their circle. Those were dangerous years. The government was new to power and violently insecure. Opposition groups were under assault. A war was raging with Iraq, and the United States had imposed sanctions. Our days were spent in queues, as the most basic staples were rationed.
Every member of the group was assigned to follow one of these pressing issues. I, however, was to give weekly updates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though much younger than the rest, I knew exactly what kind of sympathies I was expected to express. The land had to be returned to the Palestinians, I would declare at the conclusion of each summary. I never mentioned that among the Jews living on that land were my penniless relatives who moved to Israel from Iran after their home and store were torched by an angry mob during the mayhem that preceded the revolution.
Silence and submissiveness were and are the cornerstones of the character of the Iranian Jew. We walked past and away from confrontation. We burrowed in oblivion while living alongside Muslim friends and neighbors. Security and success came to those who blended in best, to those who did not allow any part of their Jewish identity to bleed into the Iranian. …


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