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Iranian Jews Fete Israeli President in L.a. As Internal Divisions Surface

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On the last evening of Moshe Katsav’s recent three-day visit to Los Angeles, the Iranian Jewish community celebrated the Iranian-born president of Israel.

But the event that wrapped up Katsav’s June 4-6 visit here also reopened fissures between the two main organizations representing L.A.’s Iranian Jews.

Like a Jewish mother getting naches, or joy, from a favorite son, speaker after speaker during a festive dinner at Sinai Temple dwelled on the Horatio Alger story — Israeli style — of a young immigrant boy housed in a makeshift tent city who rose to become Israel’s eighth president.

After years of ascent through the ranks of the Likud Party and government — during which he was voted the most polite Knesset member — Katsav has apparently not forgotten his humble roots.

When he learned that it would cost the Israeli Air Force around $300,000 to provide a special plane for his trip to the United States, Katsav and his wife, Gila, opted for commercial flights — El Al to New York and Continental to Los Angeles.

During his remarks at the dinner, Katsav picked up where his predecessor, Ezer Weizman, left off by urging his audience to make aliyah to Israel.

He urged his listeners not to repeat the mistake of their ancestors, who decided to linger in Persia after the Babylonian exile some 2,500 years ago rather than return to Jerusalem.

“We have had waves of immigrants from Europe, the Muslim countries and Russia. Now it’s time for the Western aliyah,” he added. “If we have 6 to 7 million Jews in Israel, the Arabs will realize that they cannot destroy us.”

Katsav spent much of the evening surrounded by groups of well-wishers, nervously eyed by security officials who were on full alert after threats had been made against him.

Some 30,000-strong Iranian Jews live in Los Angeles, the largest such concentration in the United States.

Despite the positive feelings at the reception and dinner, some negative group politics surfaced over the event’s planning.

George Haroonian, the president of the newer Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, charged that his organization was not fairly represented in the planning process for the evening’s events — and that his group was not listed on the official invitations, while the long-established Iranian American Jewish Federation was.

Ezat Delijani, the federation’s president, rejected the claim and noted that the council’s six constituent organizations were listed on the invitation alongside the federation’s 16 affiliates.

Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, Yuval Rotem, who had named a five-person planning committee for the event, also rejected the council’s complaint.

“We went the extra mile to make certain that all segments of the Iranian community were represented and that the dinner for President Katsav would be above politics,” said Rotem.

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