This week, Iran unveiled a memorial commemorating the lives of Jewish soldiers who died fighting for the country in the Iran-Iraq war. The monument, located in Tehran, has inscriptions in both Hebrew and Persian, and the ceremony remembered the fallen soldiers as “martyrs.” Photos from the state-run news agency IRNA show officials putting wreaths on the graves of Jewish soldiers and praying together. From Haaretz:
Iran, a home for Jews for more than 3,000 years, has the Middle East’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel. But while Iran’s Jews in recent years had their faith continually criticized by the country’s previous governments, they’ve found new acceptance under moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
“The government has listened to our grievances and requests. That we are being consulted is an important step forward,” said Homayoun Samiah, leader of the Tehran Jewish Association. “Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nobody was listening to us. Our requests fell on deaf ears.”
The erection of the monument is one of a number of moves Rouhani’s government has made away from the incendiary anti-Semitism of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who set the bar rather low when it came to friendliness towards the Jewish people. Ahmadinejad seized many opportunities to voice his views that the Holocaust is a fabrication and was often quoted as saying Israel must be “wiped off the map.” (The Washington Post points out that this particular turn of phrase, oft cited by American politicians, is actually a mistranslation of a phrase that meant something closer to “must vanish from the page of time.”)
While Iran is still hardly friendly towards Israel, the government’s treatment of its own population of 20,000 Jews has warmed markedly under Rouhani. In 2013, a Twitter account loosely affiliated with the president’s office sparked conversation among western media outlets when it tweeted Rosh Hashanah greetings. And earlier this year, Rouhani’s governemnt made a donation of $400,000 to Tehran’s only Jewish hospital. The donation, widely seen as symbolically significant, was accompanied by comments by the Health Ministry that increasing support for hospitals serving Iran’s Christians and Jews was a priority for the administration. Rouhani’s brother, who presented the gift, was quoted as saying “[o]ur government intends to unite all ethnic groups and religions, so we decided to assist you.”