LOS ANGELES (Sep. 25)
After a recent evening at a “Persian Night” in a Los Angeles club, some 20 young Iranian Muslims followed two young Iranian Jews into the street and, hurling threatening epithets, allegedly attacked the two.
The shocking incident raises questions about the relationships between the Iranian Muslim community in Southern California, estimated at anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million, and the 30,000-strong community of Iranian Jews. Each is the largest community of its kind in the United States.
West Hollywood’s Goodbar club had been booked for three Jewish birthday parties on the night of Sept. 14. There were about 200 young people at the club throughout the evening, said manager Ivan Urlich, but he sensed no tensions and the place closed at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning.
“Usually when there is a fight it starts in the club, and we throw out the troublemakers,” Urlich said. “But this time there was no trouble inside.”
Fareed Kanani and his friend Michael Kashany, both 25, tall and strapping, say they left the club shortly before 2 a.m.
“We were walking and turned around and saw between 15 to 20 guys following us,” Kanani recalled. “They asked us, ‘Are you Jewish?’ and I said ‘That’s irrelevant.’ Then they started shouting, in Farsi and English, ‘We’ll kill all the Jews,’ and started punching us.”
After some 10 minutes of fighting, the two Jews made a break for a nearby high-rise apartment, where they were shielded by a security guard until police arrived.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested five Muslims, but Kashany and Kanani could identify only two, Daoud Mohammed Mavid and Mohammed Hassan Aref, as among the attackers.
Mavid and Aref were arrested and booked on a charge of assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury and committing a hate crime. They were released on $55,000 bond each.
There are strong generational differences in both the Muslim and Jewish communities, according to Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, or CIAJO.
The older generation has the shared experience of living together in Iran, and still has strong ties to the homeland.
“However, in the generation born in America, the young Muslims are more Muslim than Iranian and the young Jews are more Jewish than Iranian,” Dayanim said.
In addition, he said, “There has been an increase in fundamentalist Islamic activity in Los Angeles and Orange County, which has led to greater anti-Semitism.”
Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, sees the relationship between Muslims and Jews as generally positive.
“We meet and work together at the Iranian Center and Rotary Club and we go to the same concerts and restaurants,” he said.
One difference, though, is that the Iranian Jewish community has organized much faster and better than have the Muslims.
“Muslims are not used to seeing Jews openly assert their Jewishness,” said George Haroonian, CIAJO’s president. “In Iran we kept a very low profile.”
At the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, associate director Marjan Keypour Greenblatt reported a growing number of incidents between Iranian Jews and Muslims.
“The cases are not as virulent as attacks by white supremacists, but their do show the need for community leaders to pay close attention to the problem of anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said.
Sadegh Namavikhah, president of the Iranian Muslim Association of North America, said people shouldn’t turn their personal problems into religious and community confrontations.
If Jewish and Muslim business partners have a dispute over a business matter, he said, they may “then try to make it into a fight between the two communities.”
As for the West Hollywood incident, he said, “The kids go to a nightclub, they have too much alcohol, they have a fight, but they have no right to make it into a religious problem.”
Namavikhah, a dentist who recently retired from the University of Southern California faculty, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has aroused sensitivities among local Muslims and Jews.
“I hope we can stay away from this topic,” he added. “There is no way one side here can convince the other, and we can’t solve the problem of the Middle East here.”
The generally conciliatory picture of Jewish-Muslim relations painted by community leaders is sharply contradicted by some Jewish students at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“The relationship has changed completely since the intifada started two years ago,” said David Yadegav, a 24-year- old history major.
“There was always anti-Semitism” by the Muslims, “but it was hidden,” he said.
“Now we are witnessing their true feelings,” he said. “When we held an Israel support rally, the Muslims showed up with Hamas headbands.”
Yadegav believes the anti-Semitism also is fueled by the fact that the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles has had greater success, financial and otherwise, than the Muslims.
“There’s a lot of envy,” he said.
Detective Scott Petz of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Office said he is still checking for additional suspects and will submit the case to the district attorney in about two weeks. Mavid and Aref are slated to be arraigned Nov. 18.
Kanani suffered a broken nose and Kashany cuts and bruises.
“We’re both strong physically and psychologically, but the thought that they actually wanted to kill us is a very scary thought, a very disturbing thought,” Kanani said. “These guys weren’t drunk, and they really wanted to kill us.”
Kashany added: “It’s been a great shock, but I wouldn’t blame all Muslims. I’m really cool with some Muslims, but they also have their punks and extremists.”