Iranian charm offensives, past and present

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been busy lately reassuring world leaders that Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful. Back in January 1979, aides to the man who was then on the cusp of taking power in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were mounting their own charm offensive. Some Khomeini advisers offered assurances that the ayatollah was not hostile to Jews or even fundamentally anti-Israel.

JTA spoke that month with Khomeini advisers in France, where the ayatollah was still living in exile, awaiting his imminent and triumphant return to Iran. JTA reported:

Close advisers to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khoumeini said here they were neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Jewish and that the “New Iran” might even renew at same future date some of its former links with Israel.

They told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Israel will have to fulfill, however, three basic conditions first sign a peace treaty with the Arab states, allow the Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes, and return the Moslem holy places in Jerusalem to. “Islamic rule.”

The men around the Ayatollah, who serve as his advisers and public relations men, told JTA that if these conditions are met, which they described as “minimal,” a future Iranian government under Khoumeini’s inspiration might even resume its oil shipments to the Jewish State.


“We are not against Israel or against the Jews,” they said. “On the contrary, our holy books reach us that we should live in peace, like brothers, with all men. Our holy man (Khoumeini).is a man of peace and brotherly love. He is opposed to any form of violence but he wants justice, justice for all and this includes our Palestinian brothers.”

The next month, after Khomeini’s return to Iran, the last Israelis fled Tehran and the Jewish state’s trade mission building there was handed over to the PLO. A few months later, Habib Elghanian, a former president of Iran’s Jewish community, was executed by firing squad for “treason through his connections with Israel and Zionism.” (Last year, Elghanian’s grandson looked back at the execution and what it meant in an essay for the Los Angeles Times.)

Incidentally, one of the Khomeini aides who had tried to reassure Jews, Ebrahim Yazdi, later came up with the idea for the Islamic Republc’s annual day of anti-Israel demonstrations, Al-Quds Day. But before the revolutionary year of 1979 was out, Yazdi had a falling out with Khomeini over the ayatollah’s support for the mass hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Daniel Treiman is a contributing writer to JTA.