NEW YORK, Aug. 21 (JTA) Iranian reformists may be gaining the upper hand in the appeal of 10 Iranian Jews convicted for allegedly spying for Israel, according to an Iranian Jewish activist in Los Angeles.
Iranian media reported Monday that a three-judge panel reviewing the appeal is divided on whether the alleged activities of the Jews were indeed criminal.
The 10 were sentenced July 1 to jail terms of four to 13 years on charges that included espionage, cooperating with the “Zionist regime” and participation in an illegal group. Three other Jews were acquitted.
The three judges, a court spokesman was quoted as saying, “have some differences” about “whether or not each of these charges is a legal violation.”
A ruling on the appeal is expected Sept. 5.
The timing may be no coincidence.
Iran’s relatively moderate President Mohammad Khatami is planning to visit New York for the United Nations Millennial Summit, which kicks off Sept. 6. The U.N. warmly greeted Khatami two years ago when it was thought his election would spur Iran’s rapprochement with the West.
However, in light of the worldwide condemnation of Iran’s court verdict against the Jews, Khatami’s reception will likely be much cooler unless the jail sentences are dramatically reduced, said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Iranian American Jewish Organizations.
“This may be a clever attempt by the Iranians to get this issue out of the way before Khatami addresses the U.N. assembly,” Dayanim said.
“If these sentences remain, with Khatami coming to discuss ‘Dialogue between Civilizations,’ it will be a major public relations disaster for Iran.”
Analysts note, however, that prolonging the negative public relations may be precisely what the Iranian hard-liners have in mind. They are battling for political and societal supremacy with the reformers. So the further isolation of Iran serves their interests, as it enables them to sow additional anti-West, anti- reformist resentment within Iran’s increasingly impoverished populace.
To ensure that the West keeps the heat up against Iran, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and other groups, like the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, are planning a series of activities for September.
On Sept. 5, for example, the day the decision on the appeal is expected to be announced and one day before the U.N. summit, the groups will stage a major media event with elected politicians and interreligious leaders.
The primary U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is said to be pressing Congress to speak out for the Iran 10 before every session when it reconvenes in the fall.
Meanwhile, Dayanim said he has learned that Khatami and his allies may have already been instrumental in trimming the sentences against the Jews. While they were harsh-sounding to the West, the hard-liners may actually have had something stiffer in mind, said Dayanim.
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, 17 Jews have been executed on spying-related allegations.
“This is not because Khatami loves Jews, but because he recognizes the case is politically detrimental to him,” Dayanim said.
“And nothing they do will ever change the fact that all these people are innocent, by the way. They’ll never get away with having imprisoned these Jews just because they were Jews.”