How Iran Kept Its Jews

“How Iran Kept Its Jews.” It was with a murder that the most critical moment in the modern history of Iranian Jewry took shape. And in what followed, Tehran’s policy toward the local Jewish community, still precariously in effect, came into being. The day was May 9, 1979, nearly three months after the victory of the Iranian revolution in the previous February. In those early days, dread filled the hearts of readers as they glanced at the morning papers. Every day, the image of a newly executed corpse accompanied the lede. Nothing like a visual cocktail of brutality and indignity to remind the citizenry of the new order of things—bare torsos of ministers and army generals riddled with bullets, splayed on stone slabs in unzipped pants. On May 9, there was the corpse of a leading Jewish figure, the industrialist Habib Elghanian. His crime: friendship with Israel, Zionists, and the enemies of God, and sowing corruption on earth. What made Elghanian’s execution particularly shocking was that he had been profoundly loyal to and grounded in Iran. His strength strengthened the community for he had much influence among Jews and non-Jews alike. His confidence was not his alone. It was the confidence of a people. One of a handful of visionaries, he had helped modernize the country. Above all, he had introduced plastic to Iran’s manufacturing. Because of all of this and many more such contributions, he assumed that the nation’s gratitude rendered him immune against any malice.

Tablet Magazine, December 30, 2014