Iran’s Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.
The incentives — ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families — were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel from among Iran’s 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel’s official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.
However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as “immature political enticements” and said their national identity was not for sale.
“The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradeable for any amount of money,” the society said in a statement. “Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran’s Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews.”
The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after earlier offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.
Iran’s sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country’s Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty.
“It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money,” he said. “Iran’s Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel.”
Iran’s Jewish population has dwindled from around 80,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution but remains the largest of any country in the Middle East apart from Israel. Jews have lived in Iran since at least 700BC.
Hostility between Iran’s Islamic government and Israel means Iranian Jews are often subject to official mistrust and scrutiny. In 2000 10 Jews in the southern city of Shiraz were jailed for spying for Israel, which Iran refuses to recognise.
A Jewish businessman, Ruhollah Kadkhodah-Zadeh, was hanged in 1998, apparently for allegedly helping Jews to emigrate.
Jews generally avoid political controversy, but Mr Motamed wrote a letter of protest to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last year after he called the Holocaust “a myth”. Mr Ahmadinejad had earlier said that Israel should be “wiped off the map”.
Jews are free to practise their religion and have their own schools, although they are forced to open on Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath.
Despite the absence of diplomatic ties with Israel, Iranian Jews frequently go there to visit relatives.