TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian Jewish leader on Wednesday said his community would not mark this week’s 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, which he accused of “killing innocent” Palestinians.
“We are in complete disagreement with the behaviour of Israel,” Siamak Morsadegh, the incoming Jewish member of the Iranian parliament following a March election, told Reuters.
“It is not related to us,” he said about Thursday’s celebrations in Israel to commemorate six decades of statehood. “We are Iranians. We have no relations with Israel.”
Iran’s ancient Jewish community has dwindled by roughly 75 percent since the 1979 Islamic revolution but is still believed to be the biggest in the Middle East outside Israel, which the Islamic Republic does not recognize.
Like many people in Iran, members of minorities which also include Christians and other faiths can be reluctant to publicly criticize its ruling establishment and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly predicts the demise of Israel.
The United States, another arch-foe of Iran, accuses it of discriminating against its religious and ethnic minorities.
Iran denies the charge and often responds to such allegations by referring to what it sees as abuses in the West.
Official representatives of the minorities say economic woes affecting all Iranians and other issues are to blame for people leaving, not any mistreatment of the minority groups.
Morsadegh said Jews in Iran enjoyed freedom of religion and other rights: “There are no specific problems for Jews in this country,” he said by phone.
He declined to comment on remarks by Ahmadinejad, who sparked international outrage with his call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and for questioning the Holocaust, when six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany in World War Two.
But the Jewish community leader criticized Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, especially in Gaza, saying it showed “anti-human behaviour ... they kill innocent people.”
Israel says it tries to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and that militant groups effectively use combatants as human shields by operating in populated areas.
Israel, which is widely believed to the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, has described Iran’s nuclear programme as a threat to its existence.
Judaism is one of three recognized minority religions in Iran. The community has a member in the 290-seat legislature and its own schools. Four other seats are reserved for Christians and Zoroastrians, who adhere to a pre-Islamic religion.
The U.S. State Department said in its 2007 human rights report in March: “All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in employment, education and housing.”
The Iranian government’s anti-Israel stance “created a threatening atmosphere for the (Jewish) community”, it said.
The Jewish population in Iran has declined to about 25,000 from some 100,000 three decades ago. Their numbers have fallen also in Arab countries since the 1948 war at Israel’s creation, which hardened Arab attitudes to deep-rooted Jewish minorities.
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