American Christians Encouraging Iranian Jews to Move to Israel

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel for the first time is publicly urging the entire Iranian Jewish community to immigrate to Israel -- and American Christians are providing the financial incentives for them to do so.

Forty new immigrants from Iran arrived in Israel on Tuesday, the largest single group of Iranian Jews to move here in decades.

Some 200 Iranian Jews have immigrated to Israel in 2007, up from just 65 in 2006. But this is the first time that their arrival has been such a public occasion.

Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental organization responsible for Jewish immigration to Israel, told Cybercast News Service that the Jewish Agency went public with the immigration story at this time for two reasons: to send a message to the Iranian Jews that world Jewry wants to help them; and to let the Iranian regime know that its Jewish citizens are not alone.

"God-willing" all the Iranian Jews will come to Israel, Jankelowitz said.

Many Iranian Jews have a high standard of living and must abandon homes, businesses and possessions when they come to Israel. That is why they are being offered an additional financial incentive to come here.

Each Iranian Jew who moves to Israel receives a $10,000 grant provided by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said Jankelowitz.

The amount given to each Jewish immigrant could enable a family of five or six to buy a home or get settled in Israel, IFCJ spokeswoman Anat Shavit-Malz said.

The IFCJ, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, was established in 1983 to promote understanding between Jews and Christians. The group raises money (primarily from Evangelical Christians in the U.S. and Canada) for various projects to help Israel and the Jewish people.

(Evangelical Christians view the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and therefore they do all they can to bring Jews to the promised land.)

Shavit-Malz said publicity surrounding the immigration of the Iranian Jews to Israel may encourage others in Iran to do the same thing. Shavit compared Iranian Jews to those in pre-World War II Germany who also failed to see the signs of coming trouble.

Navid, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 2000 when he was 15, agreed. "Those who are in Iran simply don't understand the threat around them," Navid said in a radio interview. "Those who are outside the country really understand what is going to happen."

Navid said his family immigrated to Israel because his father was one of 13 Jews arrested in 1999 and accused of spying for Israel and the U.S. The case drew international condemnation and there was fear at the time that the 13 Jews might be executed.

Three of the original 13 were acquitted at their trials in 2000 and the other 10 were given sentences of between four to 13 years. Eventually all of them were freed.

Family members outside of Iran try to convince those on the inside to leave, Navid said. Seven years after his arrival, he went to the airport on Tuesday to welcome his aunt and her family from Iran.

Iranian Affairs expert Menashe Amir said it was "very wrong" for Israel to publicize the arrival of the 40 Iranian Jews, although their names and other details were not released.

It could make life more difficult for the Jews who remain in Iran, Amir told Cybercast News Service.

Iran, with an estimated 28,000 Jews, has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel.

Following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, tens of thousands of Jews left the country. Many settled in the Los Angeles area. More than 76,000 Iranian Jews have immigrated to Israel since it became a state in 1948.

In the past, Jews have had a relative degree of religious freedom in Iran, but that may be changing.

Jankelowitz said that Jewish schools have been closed down; Iranian Jews are not allowed to study Hebrew (the language of the Jewish prayer book); and children are forced to attend school even on the most solemn Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.

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