LOS ANGELES, Sept. 20 (JTA) — Two days after the devastating attack on the World Trade Center, Jimmy Delshad was driving toward a cemetery here to attend a funeral when he stopped to ask an elderly man for directions.
The man took one look at Delshad’s face, then angrily waved him off, shouting “You should all go to hell.”
Delshad is a business executive and a prominent member of the 30,000-strong Iranian Jewish community of Los Angeles. He is convinced that the elderly man mistook him for an Arab and is concerned that such cases of hostility based on mistaken identity will increase in the future.
“I faced similar experiences in 1979 and 1980, when Iran’s new revolutionary regime held 62 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran,” Delshad said.
His defense mechanism then was to wear an American flag pinned to his lapel, and he has now bought a new batch of flag pins for members of his family.
George Haroonian, president of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, approached a customer in his rug store a week ago to offer assistance. The customer looked at Haroonian, then remarked sarcastically, “You don’t have any rugs from Afghanistan?”
Such incidents are rare and so far quite isolated, but they are enough to put the Iranian Jewish community on alert.
“There is a reasonable concern that the backlash against Muslim terrorists might mistakenly extend to all people of Middle Eastern background,” said Marjan Keypour, the Iranian-born associate director of the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.
“It’s our responsibility, and that of the media, to educate the public about the diversity of people who come from the Middle East,” she said.
Keypour also thinks that Iranian Jews, many of whom have had first-hand experience of living under a fundamentalist Muslim regime, should take the initiative in explaining to their fellow Americans the mind-set that leads young extremists to become suicide terrorists.
Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, recalls unpleasant experiences from the embassy hostage period, but has heard of none since the World Trade Center attacks.
Although he believes it might be useful to prepare fellow Iranian Jews for possible future incidents, he noted that “the leadership of the community has been in such a state of shock” that no concerted plan to prevent such incidents has been discussed.
Kermanian urged that the Iranian Muslim community in Los Angeles not be scapegoated for last week’s terror attacks.
“We must distinguish acts of terrorism from the Islamic religion,” he said.
Pooya Dayanim, another Iranian Jewish community activist, agrees.
After being asked by Iranian Muslim organizations about how they could demonstrate their American patriotism, he advised them to set up relief funds and donate blood.