In the midst of a Twitter timeline dominated by righteous condemnations of Donald Trump’s virulent racism, Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg turned his attention to this past Friday’s elections in Iran and described Jewish voters in those elections as petting zoo animals. In response to a Haaretz photo essay capturing Jewish Iranians casting ballots at the Yusef Abad synagogue in Tehran, Goldberg tweeted:
Goldberg’s condescending and arguably racist characterization of Iran’s Jewish community underlines his desperation to undermine the recent American-Iranian rapprochement – even when that normalization has been eagerly welcomed by Iran’s Jews. “We are Iranian first and foremost so all the economic pressure facing Iranians is also felt by us…if relations with the West improve, doors open to foreign investors, it will also positively impact our community,” said Flora Tavakoli, a member of the Association of Iranian Jewish Women and Girls, as quoted in an October 2015 Bloomberg article.
Despite persisting restrictions that prevent Jews from holding high office as well as the general limitations imposed on the broader Iranian public, Jewish life in Iran remains comfortable and vibrant. There are more than 60 active synagogues in the country – many subsidized by the government – and the Iranian Jewish leadership has been encouraged by changes inaugurated by President Rouhani in recent years. Since his election in 2013, Rouhani has officially granted Jewish schools permission to close on Saturdays in honor of the Sabbath, allocated approximately $400,000 to the only Jewish charity hospital in Tehran, as well as invited the country’s only Jewish lawmaker to accompany him on his first trip to United Nations General Assembly. According to Homayoun Samiah, head of the Tehran Jewish Association, “the government has listened to our grievances and requests. That we are being consulted is an important step forward.”
In simple terms, the diminishing of tensions between the United States and Iran has quite clearly yielded tangible benefits for Iran’s Jewish community. Why then, does Jeffrey Goldberg – someone who feigns great concern for the welfare of Iranian Jewry – search for opportunities to denigrate and undercut that progress? Why does he ridicule the efforts of Iranian citizens to “secure a measure of political agency for themselves”? Finally, why does he insist on unapologetically belittling and tokenizing Iranian Jews – characterizing them as passive, childlike guinea pigs?
The answer, in short, is that Goldberg’s alleged support for a more open, tolerant, and democratic Iran has little to do with promoting the popular interests of Iran’s citizenry – interests that prioritize physical and economic security. Instead, his advocacy is fueled by his interest in advancing a narrow political agenda not shared by the vast majority of Iranians – both Muslim and Jewish alike.