Bahai News - 400 demonstrate in Tenafly against Iran's trial of Jews

400 demonstrate in Tenafly against Iran's trial of Jews

Thursday, May 11, 2000


Staff Writer

Six thousand miles from Iran, a community bound by the Jewish faith rallied on Wednesday to pray for 13 Iranian Jews on trial for allegedly spying for Israel.
Nearly 400 people -- several hundred Reform and Orthodox Jews, as well as Catholics, Baha'is, and people of other faiths -- gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly, hoping for divine intervention for the men accused of espionage.

"Any time Jews are in trouble, the Jewish community in the world stands behind them. We're even here in this weather," Malkie Aaron, a real-estate broker from Englewood, said as rain pounded the roof.

"We're frightened. God forbid Iran should execute the men," Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, an organizer of the rally, said before the gathering. "It's very clear this is a show trial."

One demonstrator, Habib Hosseiry, said he moved to the United States 21 years ago from Iran. A member of the Baha'i faith and a teacher in the Elizabeth school system, Hosseiry said he came to the center "to sympathize with the Jewish community."

"Religious persecution there is very sad," Hosseiry said of his homeland.

Iran has accused the 13 men, some as young as 18, of spying for Israeli's Mossad intelligence service because of their religion and monetary gains. In the Iranian court, the prosecutor is also the judge.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death, the maximum penalty for handing out secret information that weakens national security.

A handful of the defendants confessed publicly to spying for Israel, an enemy country of Iran. The first defendant -- a shoe salesman -- said he was under no duress when he confessed. The man was shown on state television saying he had received espionage training in Israel.

Although trials can be open to the public in Iran, this one is being held behind closed doors because it involves national security.

Defense lawyers for the 13 Jews on trial have questioned the validity of the confessions and criticized the court, saying the judge cannot be impartial because of his dual role. Two Jews were hanged three years ago on similar charges.

Iran has a policy of fierce opposition to Israel. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, about 80,000 Jews lived in Iran, but only 25,000 remain today. Jews are able to practice their religion, but like all Iranians, they're forbidden to travel to or have any contact with Israel.

New Jersey protesters said that treason, by any means, is inexcusable. But they questioned the prosecution's timing. The confessions were probably coerced, they say. It's likely that the trial was orchestrated by Iranian fundamentalists who are losing clout in the national Parliament but still control the country's judicial branch, New Jersey protesters said.

Many North Jersey supporters believed the trial once again reflects persecution. The defendants have spent more than a year in solitary confinement, which they say violates human rights.

Those who gathered Wednesday evening came on a short notice. Organizers phoned every synagogue, temple, and Jewish school in the area starting May 5, urging them to attend the forum. The rally was organized by the UJA Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson.

Staff Writer Elise Young contributed to this article.

©Copyright 2000, Bergen Record

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