A 16th century European portrait of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail I (1487-1524), now housed at the Ulfizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512-1515), “Sheikh Ismail…never spares the life of any Jew,” while another contemporaneous European travelogue noted Ismail I, “bore hatred against the Jews and ordered their eyes to be gouged out if they happened to be found in his vicinity.”
My recent book Iran’s Final Solution for Israel, painstakingly documents the continuous inculcation of conspiratorial Shiite Islamic Jew-hatred in Iran, and its myriad repellant manifestations, since the society became a Twelver Shiite theocracy under Shah Ismail—a visceral Jew-hater, himself—during 1501. One of the most striking, and depressing contemporary examples of this deeply embedded, hateful Weltanschauung was captured by U.S. political scientist Eliz Sanasarian, an expatriate Iranian from the Armenian minority community in Iran, in her 2000 study of Iran’s non-Muslims religious minorities.
The eyewitness account by Sanasarian’s colleague provides a res ipsa loquitur demonstration of the inveterate nature of Shiite Iranian Jew-hatred, a “cultural prejudice,” which persists even within a present day “secular,” highly-educated diaspora.
A group of [Iranian] émigré medical doctors used to meet and socialize on a regular basis in a major city in the United States. Among them only one couple were Jewish; the rest were Iranian Shiite Muslims, none of whom practiced any aspect of the religion or attended mosque. At a social occasion, out of the blue, a group of them began a conversation about “johooda [a reference to the Jews]” and their conspiracies, deceits, and lies. A friend of the author [Sanasarian], present in the gathering, turned to the Jewish couple: “How can you stand this? Say something!” “No,” responded the couple, “we are used to it. Don’t say anything.” My friend, unable to hold back, reminded the chatterers that they had Jews in their midst. They changed their tune immediately; addressing the Jewish couple, one of them sighed: “Khoda margam bedeh [God strike me dead—a colloquial expression]. We hope you don’t think we were talking about you. We are speaking in generalities which we know you’ll agree with us.” The Jewish couple remained silent and my friend walked out of the party in disgust.