by Marsha Cohen
— You won’t succeed on Broadway if you haven’t any Jews.
–Song from Spamalot
The Associated Press and The Guardian and are reporting that Siamak Morsadegh, the Jewish representative in Iran’s Parliament (Majlis), will be one of two parliamentarians accompanying Hassan Rouhani to New York next week, when the new Iranian president addresses the United Nations and meets with heads of state from around the world. Word that Morsadegh (alternatively spelled Moreh Sadeq) would accompany Rouhani apparently originated in a tweet early this morning.
This would be the first time an Iranian president brought a Jewish lawmaker to the UN with him, according to the AP. In September 2000 (not “the 1990s”, as reported by the AP), Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karroubi brought Morsadegh’s predecessor, Morris Motamed, with him to New York as part of an Iranian delegation to a conclave of 150 parliamentary speakers from around the world organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
According to The New York Times, Motamed “had tried to reassure the Americans that the Jews in Iran — numbering 25,000 to 30,000, down from a high of 80,000 to 100,000 before the 1979 revolution, he said — were living as well as their Muslim neighbors.” Several Jewish members of Congress met with the five visiting Iranians, among them the late Sen. Arlen Spector, a Republican, and two Democratic members of the House from New York, Gary Ackerman and Eliot Engel. Engel, now the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been one of the most avid proponents of sanctions against Iran in Congress.
The second parliamentarian who, it was announced, would accompany Rouhani to New York, Ahmad Reza Dastgheyb, is a prominent reformist representing Shiraz and a member of the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy.
Morsadegh, a 47-year-old physician from Shiraz who serves on the Majlis’ health committee, accompanied President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as part of a delegation to the European Parliament in 2008 (not 2012, as reported by AP), the same year he was elected to succeed Motamed. Like other Jewish Majlis representatives before him, Morsadegh has been critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians and has been reluctant to criticize Iran’s top leadership.
“We are living in a religious country as a religious minority,” Morsadegh told the European Jewish Press in an interview during his visit to Brussels. “Of course we have some problems. I don’t want to say that everything is ok. But at this moment we don’t have major problems. Our day-to-day conditions are improving and our situation is now more stable and better than it was in the early years of the Iranian revolution when Jews and Muslims weren’t equal.”
Nevertheless, The Tehran Jewish Committee, the community’s central body, protested against a 2006 conference on the Holocaust attended by several prominent Holocaust deniers. Morsadegh said the conference did not represent the views of most Iranians, and that Ahmadinejad’s views on the Holocaust were personal, rather than that of Iran’s leaders. Iran’s new Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, recently tweeted much the same.
Iran’s Jewish population in Iran declined to 25,000 from some 100,000 three decades ago, according to Reuters, although Israeli sources claim it is now closer to 10,000. Nonetheless, Iran remains the largest Jewish community in the Middle East except for Israel. Sixty percent of Iran’s Jews live in Teheran; the others in large cities such as Isfahan and Shiraz. According to Morsadegh, there are 40 synagogues in Iran, half of them in Teheran.
While in Brussels, Morsadegh opined that Iran’s nuclear research was for peaceful purposes, and that nuclear weapons could not be used in the Middle East, with so many small countries next to one another. He also said he did not believe Iran was seeking a military confrontation with Israel.
One possible glitch in Morsadegh’s travel plans could be a delay or denial of a visa to come to the U.S. During the 2000 visit by Karroubi and Motamed, two other members of the Iranian delegation could not travel because they had not received the necessary visas. No doubt, Morsadegh’s presence alongside Rouhani in New York would add to the remarkably positive mood music that the new government has been playing in advance of next week’s now much-anticipated visit.
Clarification: As of the 2011 Iranian census, there were 8,756 Jews in Iran nationwide.