In the 1980s, at a dinner party at the home of a Muslim Iranian friend, an older woman sitting next to me panics when she realizes I’m Jewish. Quickly, she gathers her coat around her and hugs herself tight to create as much space between us as she can. Later, the host explains that the old woman still believes what she was taught as a child in Iran — that Jews are najis (ritually impure) and will contaminate anything they touch.
Writer Gina Nahai
In the 1990s, at a book talk in Portland, I’m confronted by an angry group of nearly 100 Muslim Iranian men and women who demand to know why I feel the need to write about the persecution of Jews in Iran under Shia Islam. The evening&when one woman — a dentist — asserts without irony that it is indeed true that Jews are najis. It also is true, she goes on to say, that Jews have little tails hidden by their clothes. Everyone hears her, but not a single person in the room steps in to correct her.
These are not everyday occurrences. For every bigoted Muslim Iranian I know, I’ve also known a dozen civil, enlightened and cultured ones. Many of them, in fact, are more accepting of Jews than Jews are of them. They’re not everyday occurrences, and yet, when they happen, they all but take my breath away. In the 2000s, I’m in the studios of a Persian-language radio station in Los Angeles. As I wait for one program to end and my interview to begin, I hear an angry caller yell at the host that he should not refer to Iranian Jews as “Iranian.” “Those people are not and have never been Iranians.
They were subversives we let live in our country.” The caller is somewhere in the United States. After he signs off, a second caller, then a third echo his sentiments. Last week, I happened upon a Facebook conversation among a few Iranian Muslims about Iranian Jews. The subject is “Iranians who attended the AIPAC conference,” and how “these are the same people who voted for Donald Trump.” This, we all know and understand, means something like, “Iranian Jews all support Israel and would like to bomb and obliterate Iran, and that’s why they voted for Trump.” In response to the post, people have made comments such as, “Those people are not Iranians; they’re Israelis disguised as Iranian” or “Those are Israelis who speak Farsi.”