Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roger Cohen berated in New York Times letters

The latest salvo has been fired against columnist Roger Cohen on the letters page of the New York Times of 23 March. All the letter-writers berate him for minimising the antisemitism of the Iranian regime. They also question Cohen s assertion that Iran is the least undemocratic state in the Middle East after Israel:

Re “Iran, Jews and Pragmatism” (column, March 16):

Roger Cohen says that the “rage” in response to his claim that Iran’s Jews are safe and secure erupted because “the hawks’ case against Iran depends on a vision of an apocalyptic regime” that is “frenziedly anti-Semitic.” He says that “the presence of these Jews” in Iran “undermines that vision.”

The status of the Jews in Iran should be evaluated based on the facts, regardless of hawks’ or doves’ political positions regarding United States policy toward Iran.

The State Department — which does not embrace the hawks’ position on Iran — in its “International Religious Freedom Report 2008” found that Iran’s Jews live in a “threatening atmosphere” and that religious minorities suffer “officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing.” The government “limited the distribution of Hebrew texts, particularly nonreligious texts, making it difficult to teach the language.”

Is the Iranian regime “frenziedly anti-Semitic,” as Mr. Cohen puts it? According to the State Department, “There was a rise in officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda involving official statements, media outlets, publications and books.”

Among other examples, the report noted the publication in the Iranian press of “anti-Semitic editorial cartoons depicting demonic and stereotypical images of Jews” and an Iranian television broadcast of a documentary describing “the Jewish plan for genocide of humanity.”

Three-quarters of Iran’s Jews have emigrated in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the State Department report noted that some Iranian Jews are continuing to emigrate, “partially due to continued anti-Semitism by the government and within society.”

Rafael Medoff

The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

I question Roger Cohen’s reference to Iran as “the Middle East’s least undemocratic state outside Israel.” Elections in Iran and the candidates for elections are determined by one man: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme authority in Iran.

The Jews in Iran should be seen as pawns or hostages in case Israel decides to attack Iran. Iran’s Jews have been imprisoned or executed, accused of spying for Israel. Their status is precarious.

If President Obama wants to prevent Iran from acquiring the atomic bomb, short of resorting to military action, he must talk only with Ayatollah Khamenei. Otherwise, he will be wasting his time and may be giving Israel no alternative but using force to protect itself.

Heskel M. Haddad

The writer is president of the World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, which represents Jews from Islamic countries.


Roger Cohen first declares that Iran is “the Middle East’s least undemocratic state outside Israel,” but then later admits that “Iran is an un-free society.”

That is an understatement. According to the Freedom House “Freedom of the World” report for 2008, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are all more “free” than Iran.

Only Sudan, whose leader is being sought for crimes against humanity, Saudi Arabia and Syria received worse scores than Iran. Iran is one of the least “free” countries in the Middle East.

Freedom House also ranks countries according to “electoral process,” by which Yemen, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq all rank higher than Iran.

Mr. Cohen’s optimism regarding democracy and freedom in Iran, and the implications it has for United States policy, is undermined by Freedom House’s findings.

Gabriel M. Scheinmann

New York Times letters

Meeting Iranian Jews has taught Roger Cohen nothing


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