As Iranians head to the polls Friday to elect their next president, Israeli experts expect Iran’s 25,000 Jews to vote for incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while Iranian experts say they will likely vote for a candidate more friendly to minority rights.
Experts in both countries describe the Iranian Jewish minority as a low-profile community that strives to be on the winning side of any election to avoid confrontation in the Islamic Republic.
Isreali experts see support for incumbent
Isreali experts predicted Jews would support for Ahmedinajad despite his controversial statements on Israel and the Holocaust.
“They are leaning towards leaving Ahmadinejad in his post because (Mirhossein) Mousavi is unpredictable,” David Mutaj, spokesman for the Central Organization of Iranian Immigrants in Israel, was quoted as saying by Israel’s Ynet news.
Mutai stressed that since the Islamic Revolution, the Jewish community has tried to keep a low profile in politics and election propaganda. “They do not participate in support rallies and certainly do not organize any,” he explained.
David Menashri, director of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies also predicted Jewish votes would go to Ahmadinejad since Jewish minorities tend to follow the mainstream.
"The ruler today is Khamenei, who is more supportive of Ahmadinejad. Even though he doesn't say it explicitly, any criticism against the president is directed at Khamenei," Menashri told Ynet.
Iranians predict minority rights as key factor
But some Iranian experts disagree, noting that the platforms of Karoubi and Mousavi are friendlier towards ethnic and religious minorities.
Dr. Ali Raza Nouri Zadeh, expert on Iranian Affairs, said Iran's Jews are mostly backing Mehdi Karoubi, whose platform guarantees minority rights and political participation and Mousavi who is more moderate than Ahmadinejad.
"Iran's Jews suffered a lot under Ahmadinejad and they know better than to miss the chance of improving their situation under other leading candidates who care about minority rights," Zadeh told Al Arabiya.
He acknowledged that the Iranian Jewish community exercises extreme caution in politics but stressed that they are active behind the scenes.
"Iran's Jews are extremely careful about what the statements they give. They have representatives in the Iranian Parliament and in the past 30 years their protests against government have not exceeded 10 times," Zadeh explained. "This is because whatever they do they are accused of being Israeli agents."
Despite the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 and Ahmadinejad's controversial rhetoric on the Holocaust and Israel’s existence in the Middle East, Jews have chosen to remain in Iran where their community remains the largest among the Muslim countries. Iran's Jews are officially recognized as a religious minority by the government and are allocated a seat in Parliament.
Jews in Iran
The issue of Iranian Jews has sparked sharp debate, especially following a New York Times op-ed earlier this year by Roger Cohen in which he argued that Iranian Jews fair better than their Arab Jewish counterparts in the region.
"You are saying what many of us would like to hear," an Iranian Jewish woman wrote to Cohen in response to his statements on Iran`s Jewish community. "Iran - the supposed enemy - is the one society that has gone through its extremist fervor and is coming out the other end. It is relatively stable and socially dynamic.”
In 2007, the Association of Tehrani Jews issued a statement on behalf of Iran's Jewish community distancing itself from a secret exodus to Israel by 40 Jew and refusing monetary aid to help them immigrate out of Iran from their American and Israeli counterparts.
Iran’s Parliamentary elections in 2008 saw a bold turn out of Jewish Iranian voters, who voted for Jewish candidates to represent them in parliament. Voters said they were committed to Iran as their country of birth and did not suffer religious persecution from the Shiite government.
“We have been in this country for thousands of years and we will stay," businessman Edmund Moalemi, 32, told Reuters after casting his ballot at a synagogue in the capital Tehran last year.