Jesse Jackson Seeks to Aid Iranian Jews

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Reverend Jesse Jackson received permission from Washington to travel to Iran to try and secure the release of 13 Iranian Jews waiting to go on trial on espionage charges.

"We would support any effort that are aimed to address the problem - the serious problem - of this trial that is awaiting these 13 Iranian Jews," said State Department spokesman James Foley yesterday.

Foley reiterated Washington's position that the charges against the 13, accused of spying for the US and Israel, are "without foundation." He added, "We've called on the government of Iran to uphold its stated commitment to protect the rights of all religious and ethnic minorities by releasing these individuals and insuring that no harm comes to them."

While State Department said it welcomes Jackson's attempt to mediate on behalf of the 13 Foley said the visit of Jackson or anyone who could secure their release but that if he goes it will be as a private citizen and "not on an official mission."

Statements published earlier this week from Gholamhossein Rahbarpour, head judge of Teheran's Revolutionary Court, signaled that the 13 Iranian Jews may go on trial soon and could be found guilty very quickly.

"It is certain that these individuals were spies. There is no doubt about this," Rahbarpour said in an interview with the Persian-language daily Jomhuri Eslami. "The court has enough strong evidence and documents in this regard," Rahbarpour said according to a news agency report. The "revolutionary courts have convinced all officials and there is no question or discussion about the accusations."

If found guilty the 13, who include a Rabbi, several teachers and a 16-year-old youth, could face the death penalty. The Jews were arrested last spring, accused of spying for the "Zionist regime" and "world arrogance" referring to Israel and the US respectively.

Likud Knesset Member Moshe Katsav, said he fears for the lives of the Jews. "I believe that the Iranian authorities are going to prepare a show trial against the Jews," Iranian-born Katsav told Israel Radio.

"I can imagine the inner struggle in the Iranian administration and the various powers in the Iranian administration and I hope that the international (community) will raise their voice and will prevent any activity against those 13 Jews," he said. "I am afraid that their life is in danger."

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, said that "after checking subject, with all security services, without a doubt the 13 Jews are not guilty, are not connected with guilt, and there is no suspicion; they're clear of all guilt."

Lau's spokesman told that "the government (of Israel) as a government can't get involved in the issue because they don't have diplomatic relations with Iran." However, Lau encouraged the public in Israel and abroad to become involved in order to "arouse world opinion against harming the innocent."

Lau has sent letters to King Abdullah of Jordan, the President of Kazakhastan, who reportedly is friend of the Iranian President, and former South African President, Nelson Mandela asking them to intercede on behalf of the Jews. Lau added that there are two European nations that have special relations with Iran which are also working to free the Jews.

Meanwhile, the Iranian News Agency IRNA reported that representatives of religious minorities in the Iranian parliament told a visiting Danish official, Eisten Kristensen, that "religious minorities (representatives) enjoy equal rights with Muslim parliament members."

Jewish community representative Manouchehr Eliasi, one of the five religious minority Member of Parliament in the Majlis (parliament), told Kristensen, that the "Jewish community enjoys civil and religious freedoms like other religious minorities in Iran."

Earlier in the week, Manouchehr was quoted in a news agency report expressing the fear of the Jewish community while at the same time defending his country. He said that there is "concern and trepidation among Jews in Iran while the foreign media exaggerate the facts and try to harm national unity."