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News :: International
Q & A: Iran's only Jewish member of Parliament
12 May 2008
Interview on politics and life in Iran's Jewish community.
INTERVIEW: Morris Motamed
Only Jewish Minister of Parliament
Islamic Republic of Iran
by Trish Schuh
Simultaneous translation by Meisam Jebelli, Iranian government interpreter
AGE: 63 years old
BORN: Hamadan, Iran
JOB: Only Jewish MP of the Majlis- Iranian Parliament
VOCATION: Topography Engineer, Cartography, making maps. Aerial mapping, field mapping, site mapping, satellite images. This is my field of study and this is a consulting engineers company. I am one of the owners of this company. I worked here for more than 20 years. So the time that I am free and not in Parliament, I sit here.
EDUCATION: Tehran University
Studied earthquake prediction for one year in Japan.
Satellite images / remote sensing in the Netherlands, Poland, India
Morris Motamed is the only Jewish Minister of Parliament in Iran's Majlis, and is the official representative of the largest (25,000) Jewish community in the middle east Diaspora outside of Israel.
The Persian Jewish community stretches back nearly 3000 years to around 680 BC when Jews fled King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria and were later freed from Babylonian captivity by the Persian King Cyrus the Great. Cyrus also helped them rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
But now those ties are under strain. President Ahmedinejad has offended the Iranian Jewish community with his attacks on Israel and the Holocaust, and there is worry for the community's safety if the crisis in Lebanon with Iranian-backed Hezbollah broadens into a US-Israeli attack on Iran.
Concerns abound that the Jewish community could be scapegoated as they were during the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. After several synagogues in the southern city of Shiraz were attacked during the conflict, Jews held a pro-Hezbollah rally in self-defense to prove their loyalty to the regime.
In October, 2007 Israeli media disclosed that "Danger!" warning letters had been sent to Iranian Jews by Jews in the Diaspora warning them to flee ahead of an impending military attack on Iran.
Q: What is the condition of the Jewish community in Iran?
A: Fortunately we have no problem in the Jewish community's living conditions. This question has been asked by many- if there was any change after President Khatami's time changed to President Ahmedinejad? If there was any change in conditions for religious minorities, especially Jews? We always answered fortunately and happily that there was no change, and we hope that there will be no change in a negative direction.
Q: Do you ever consider emigrating to Israel or the USA?
A: As for emigration, I haven't thought about it and haven't decided anything. For the time being all my family members are living in the United States.
Q: Would you rather live in Israel or the United States?
A: If I was to decide to emigrate, I would like to live in a place where all my relatives, all my acquaintances, my family and friends are living- to have my connections and communications with them.
Q: What is most difficult about life in Iran?
A: Since all people here- I can say the majority of Iranian society are living in the same conditions in life, and they are almost the same. There is no difference between the way of life of the minority communities and the main body of the society, which means the Muslims. I cannot say what is the hardest part of my life.
Q: A couple of years ago, it was reported that the Iranian government was going to force Jews to wear a star or marking on their clothes. What was the truth behind this?
A: Unfortunately, this was fake news published in a Canadian newspaper. I considered this news a big insult to the religious minorities of Iran. I countered the news very harshly, to the point where the source of the news and the Canadian government officially apologized to the Iranian government. I was sure this news was fake. It was published in a newspaper following a resolution that was being talked about in Parliament on fashion and fabrics- and they misused it. I was the person who made them apologize to Iran's government.
Q: It seems this was not the only time the western press has mistranslated Farsi into English. Please comment on the alleged statement of Iranian President Ahmedinejad's threat to "wipe Israel off the map". What did he actually say in Persian? (Ahmedinejads notorious threat to "wipe Israel off the map" was actually a quote of the Ayatollah Khomeini who said: "The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time.")
A: I personally believe so much in democracy, and I respect democracy. One of the basic principles of democracy is freedom of speech, so that a person can freely say his ideas and viewpoints. Mr. Ahmedinejad in my viewpoint, as a person has stated his ideas and viewpoints. So after his speech we observed and saw that some Iranian political authorities talked in a different manner- said that Iran doesn't want the wiping out or destruction of any nation from the page of history or from the map.
Q: What do you think of the Iranian nuclear program?
A: As a Jewish Iranian, I consider enrichment of peaceful nuclear technology the obvious right of Iranian society. What is sad here- and I'm so sorry about- is that before the Islamic Revolution, we witnessed that western Europe and America, they pressured Iran so much to establish a nuclear power plant and obtain nuclear technology. Now the idea is brought up: "Why do you want nuclear technology? What is the use of nuclear technology for you when you have alot of resources like fuel and gas and oil?" My question here is that, why at that time then, the problem of natural resources was not brought up? Now, if they talk about Iran's natural resources they threaten- warn Iran- that the oil would finish soon. But nowadays, they are talking exactly vice versa. At the same time they say that Iran shouldn't have nuclear technology by focusing on Iran's big, huge oil and gas resources. .
Q: Please comment on Ahmedinejad's statement that the Holocaust was a myth.
A: About two years ago when Mr. Ahmedinejad denied the big tragedy of the Holocaust, I immediately, as the representative of the Jewish community of Iran, held a press conference and I expressed my sadness about the statements of the Iranian President. I declared his words a very big insult to all Jewish communities all around the world.
Q: Does Ahmedinejad actually believe that there were no Jews killed in the Holocaust?
A: Fortunately after what he said about the Holocaust the first time, we found in his next speeches, he became more moderate. But not to the extent that he apologized or withdrew his statement.
Q: What about the Holocaust conference held recently here?
A: When the Holocaust conference was being held in Iran, I sent an official letter to the institute in charge of holding this conference. I expressed my being sorry and sad about holding such an event which was to deny the biggest tragedy in human history, and to undermine the rights of victims of the terrible genocide. I complained about it. Fortunately and happily, we witnessed that this conference was not welcomed as the organizers had been expecting. Not in Iran or in the world.
Q: Did you protest the attendance of the Jewish group Netura Kartei?
A: Netura Kartei traveled to Iran many times for religious dialogues between faiths, which are held now and then. It is natural that I met with them.
Q: Recently, an Israeli government official has threatened the Palestinians in Gaza with a "Holocaust". Could you comment on the use of this word in this context?
A: As a representative of the Jewish community, because of what is going on nowadays in Gaza... We are witnessing killing, injuring innocent people- old men, children and women in Gaza. I'm very sorry. We have declared our hatred of this issue with a declaration. What makes us so sorry- because 'Holocaust'' which means 'genocide'-
a person who knows himself as a victim of cruelty which was done to him during the second world war by Holocaust, now himself wants to bring up another Holocaust. This kind of statment is full of shamefulness and embarassment.
Q: Haaretz mentioned cash incentives for Iranian Jews to relocate to Israel?
A: Iranian Jews are free. But three months ago we published a declaration that the freedom of decision making for Iran's Jews is not for sale. Great numbers of Jews have been offered this, but we didn't want to leave our homeland. We prefer to be here.
Q: While we have been discussing today, your answers have been very moderate. But if you did have serious problems here - would you really be free to discuss them with a foreign reporter? Or would you be punished when I leave?
A: Never. I had many, many press conferences... I said my ideas. There were no contacts, punishments. I don't know what you mean.
Q: For criticizing the President?
A: No fortunately, nothing has happened yet and I hope in future also nothing will happen. Whatever I told you I answered honestly.
In the weeks following my interview with Morris Motemad, local authorities burned down seven ancient synagogues in Tehran, and clerics announced a plan to erase Iran's non-Islamic heritage by destroying the tomb of Cyrus the Great. Mr. Motamed was unreachable for further comment.