Trending Topics:

Jeffrey Goldberg compares Iranian Jews to ‘petting zoo’ animals

on 23 Comments

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.

Danielle Kamal

Danielle Kamal is a writer and researcher based in Cambridge, MA with an academic interest in American and Middle Eastern diplomatic history.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

23 Responses

  1. echinococcus on March 2, 2016, 11:00 am

    Seeing that comparisons to animals are kosher in Mr Goldberg’s language, I long have wanted to compare him to an alligator. Not something you’d allow anywhere close to a petting zoo.

    • Kay24 on March 2, 2016, 12:20 pm

      All this anger against these poor Iranian Jews, because they had the courage to turn down thousands of dollars offered by the zionists in Israel, to leave Iran and move over to apartheid land. By not accepting that bribe, they made Iran their home look good.

      Goldberg shows his ugly colors again.

  2. eljay on March 2, 2016, 11:08 am

    Totally spontaneous scenes from a Tehran petting zoo: …

    — Jeffrey Goldberg …

    Jews in Iran = petting zoo
    Non-Jews in (Mandate) Palestine = factory farm

    Thanks, Jeffy G.

  3. David Doppler on March 2, 2016, 11:16 am

    Some animals are more equal than others.

  4. Les on March 2, 2016, 12:27 pm

    Corporal Goldberg has never explained how American Jewry benefited from his service as an IDF camp guard of Palestinian prisoners.

  5. Steve Grover on March 2, 2016, 12:32 pm

    Danielle Kamal sez:
    “Rouhani has officially granted Jewish schools permission to close on Saturdays in honor of the Sabbath”
    Why do they need Rouhani’s permission to close on Shabbat?
    Danielle Kamal,
    Why don’t you call the Iranian Hebrew Congregation in Skokie, IL where the first language of most of their congregants is Farsi and ask these congregants their take on what Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted?

    • elodie on March 2, 2016, 4:26 pm

      My understanding is that Jewish schools in Iran are administered and funded by the Ministry of Education. Government-funded schools generally operate on the same calendar — this change in policy attempts to accommodate Jewish religious observance. Ideally, educational systems would instinctively strive to provide equal support to students of all faiths. However, I should remind you that this is, sadly, not the case in several countries:

      Also, as the article notes, the argument is not that Iranian Jews — or Iranians in general — live in idealized circumstances but that Iran’s re-engagement with the international community has generated certain positive developments (a trend that we should cautiously encourage, rather than irresponsibly obstruct).

      As for your suggestion to contact an Illinois synagogue: Do you not respect Jews presently living in Iran enough to value their own assessments? Why should we collectively dismiss the views of Iranian Jews actually living in Iran — aren’t they the best judges of their own reality? Or do you, like Jeffrey Goldberg, view them as a herd of mindless stooges?

      • Steve Grover on March 2, 2016, 5:24 pm

        Stooges because they have been living under duress since the butcher Khomeini assumed power.

      • Steve Grover on March 2, 2016, 5:28 pm

        Oh yeah, most members of that congregation fear for the safety of their friends and family back in Iran.

      • oldgeezer on March 2, 2016, 5:53 pm


        Given Israel’s constant desire to have Iran bombed back to the stone age and Israel’s callous disregard for civilian lives it’s understandable that the congregation worries.

      • Mooser on March 2, 2016, 6:06 pm

        “Oh yeah, most members of that congregation fear for the safety of their friends and family back in Iran.”

        Yes, if the US or Israel attacks Iran, they could be, may be, in terrible danger. We should make fast friends with Iran, if only for the sake of the Jews there.

      • echinococcus on March 2, 2016, 6:08 pm

        De Baker,

        You seem to rely on Zionists for your information.
        You’ll never get anything reliable.
        I have a good number of Iranian friends who happen to be “biologically” Jewish. The first thing they say is that emigrating was a good move for the economical prospects but bad for human socialization. The second, that the bullshit of the ones who sell themselves as “Zionists” and inveigh against some imagined persecution qua Jews would have been a little better staged if they had moved to the Zionist entity instead of the US. Not a one wants to ever even visit the Zionist entity. They ain’t crazy.

      • Steve Grover on March 2, 2016, 8:51 pm

        OK echinicoccus, why does the Iranian Hebrew Congregation where most congregants are from Iran and their first language is Farsi have a “We Stand With Israel” sign outside of the building and a U.S.A. and Israeli flag on either side of the Aron Kodesh?

      • echinococcus on March 2, 2016, 11:13 pm


        Because they are despicable Zionists, duh!
        By the way, I already telegraphed this question: ask them why they “stand with” the Zionist entity… in the States instead of risking their skin in occupied Palestine, if they aren’t some kind of spies or such.

  6. JimMichie on March 2, 2016, 12:59 pm

    I’ll expand just a small bit on your “whys”, Danielle, regarding Jeffery Goldberg: He’s a Zionist!

  7. on March 2, 2016, 1:09 pm

    Unwoke white Jews are still stuck in the mentality of colonialist 1800’s Europe where everyone outside of European rule or influence are deemed to be savages, backwards and uncivilised.

    The funny thing is, white Europeans who originally developed and propagated these values, and imparted them on the white Jews, have long realized how wrong they were and how much of their prejudice towards non whites were projections of their own deficiencies. No wonder white Europe now find Israel distasteful and unwanted, because it reminds them so much of how stupid and backwards they used to be (or are still being, judging from the total abandonment of their “higher European values” the moment they have to help poor refugees fleeing war and destruction. )

    • Mooser on March 2, 2016, 6:14 pm

      “rugal b” , I remember, I made the same exact point to my Dad during a discussion, who, from the wise perspective of his advanced years, offered me this sage advice: “Shut up. Things are tough all over! Go get me a beer, boychik ! ”

      How could anybody grow up right with that kind of gender confusion?

    • rosross on March 5, 2016, 1:24 am

      @ rugal,

      I think you need to do some history research. For what it is worth, racism is not particular to Anglo/Europeans whom I presume is what you mean by white, but common to all human beings depending upon their race, nationality, culture or religion.

      Having lived for many years in India and various African countries I can assure you that the worst racism is amongst the non- ‘whites’ and that the most enlightened nations are those Western nations, sourced in Anglo/European attitudes which make racism less common and subject to social disapproval and quite rightly so.

      Judaism did not need to learn religious racism from anyone, because, like many groups, tribes, religions, it had discrimination inherent in its teachings. The belief in Jewish superiority is a key part of the religion and while not particular to Jews as a religion, has become perhaps more entrenched.

      Any group which sees non-members, whether of race, tribe, religion, nation, culture, as other or lesser, is racist and because the Western world, the largely Anglo/European world has spent so much time mixing, both by force and voluntary means, in ways that others have not, there is by necessity, less racism because borders are porous.

      Israel could never have been anything other than religiously bigoted because it was founded on the basis that the needs of Jews were paramount and everyone who was not-Jewish was lesser and needed to be kept in such inferior status.

      The Western world finds Israel distasteful because it is racist in the name of religion. It finds it more distasteful because Israel is a hypocrite, claiming to be a democracy when it is not; claiming to be developed when it is not; claiming to be Western when it is not.

  8. yourstruly on March 2, 2016, 7:59 pm

    Isn’t it about time that the Atlantic let go of Jeffrey Goldberg, the ex-IDF (or is he still in the IDF reserves) soldier whose every article is predicated on his belief that both the U.S. and Israel are as Beacons on the Hill, with Israel, of course, by far the shiniest of the two. As for the people in these two countries, their lives, their well-being, so long as they don’t oppose U.S./Israel hegemony, he couldn’t care less what happens to them.

  9. rosross on March 4, 2016, 10:05 pm

    Iranian Jews are just doing what most sensible people do – they are Iranian first and Jewish second. In other words they have a nationality and a religion and the nationality comes first.

    Sensible Jews around the world put nationality before religion.

    • wondering jew on March 5, 2016, 2:05 am

      some more historical ignorance from rosross:

      here are the facts: (wikipedia)

      At the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, 80,000-100,000 Jews were living in Iran. From then on, Jewish emigration from Iran dramatically increased, as about 20,000 Jews left within several months of the revolution alone.[36] The vast majority of Iran’s Jewish population, some 60,000 Jews, emigrated, of whom 35,000 went to the United States, 20,000 to Israel, and 5,000 to Europe (mainly to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland).[42]

      Some sources put the Iranian Jewish population in the mid and late 1980s as between 50,000–60,000.[43] An estimate based on the 1986 census put the figure considerably higher for the same time, around 55,000.[44] From the mid-1990s to the present there has been more uniformity in the figures, with most government sources since then estimating roughly 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran.[45][46][47][48][49] However, a 2012 census put the figure at about 8,756.[50] These official figures are considered bloated, and the Jewish community may not amount to more than 10,000.[51]

      thus clearly there has been a mass exodus of Jews from Iran and to point to the remaining Iranian community and say, “just doing what sensible people do” is just a bunch of hooey.
      I am not saying that Iranian Jews must leave and should leave, but to ignore a mass exodus and not realize that there is some dynamic of “discomfort” (if not coercion) in play there is to display historical naivete. (to say the least)

      • rosross on March 5, 2016, 8:29 pm

        @ yonah,

        Wikipedia is not accepted as a source by any respectable university in the world.

        It is compromised severely as non-edited contributed material and never more so than on controversial issues, particularly this one.

        It is in general in a range from information to misinformation and on the issue of Palestine it is in a range of misinformation to propaganda.

        However, the issue is not where Iranian Jews left in the past when the propaganda machine for Zionism was at its height and the ignorance of the atrocities committed against the Palestinians in the process of stealing their country were generally ignored or unknown, but the fact that today, despite begging and pleading from Israel, a very large number of Iranians who happen to be members of Judaism, choose to stay in their own country instead of participating in the theft of someone else’s.

      • wondering jew on March 6, 2016, 3:45 pm

        Rosross- The question is not one of Zionism, but of the Iranian regime’s relation to its Jewish population. The vast majority left after Khomeini and his imams came to power. (Many of them went to America, so the question of Israel is besides the point.) That is the key point. To discuss the dynamics of the Jewish community in Iran without relating to the mass (but not total) exodus since 1979 is a sign of a biased mind.

Leave a Reply