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Four Candidates Vie for the Only Jewish Seat in Iran’s Parliament

February 16, 2000
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There is a hotly contested “Jewish seat” in this week’s Iranian parliamentary elections.

Four people, including one woman, are seeking the vacant spot in Friday’s vote. One of them is the incumbent, Manouchehr Eliasi, who currently represents the community of about 35,000 people in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

Hilda-Rab Zadeh, an English teacher believed to be the first woman ever to seek the post, reportedly published part of her campaign literature in Hebrew.

Under Iranian law, the nation’s Jewish, Zoroastrian and Chaldean communities are each entitled to one seat in the Majlis. The Armenian community gets two.

Two of the Jewish candidates are running from the southern city of Shiraz, where a hard-line revolutionary court is soon expected to hear the case of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested last year amid accusations of spying for Israel and the United States.

The case, which has sparked an international outcry, involved a “mix-up,” according to one of the 13, Omid Teflin, who was recently released on bail.

“That’s all it was with me,” the 25-year-old said in a recent interview with Agence France Presse. “And that’s what I think it was for the others as well.”

The president of the Jewish Association of Shiraz, Eshagh Nik-Nava, told the French news agency that he agreed with Teflin’s view, saying the “whole affair is a big misunderstanding.”

“Jews have been here for 2,700 years,” Nik-Nava said. “They do not commit illegal acts. This would be the first time.”

The 13 Jews — religious and community leaders, including one teen-ager — have been held in a jail in Shiraz since last spring, but have not been formally charged. Both Israel and the United States have vehemently denied the accusations against the accused, who could face the death penalty if convicted.

Many observers believe that the arrests and accusations are part of a power struggle between conservative hard-liners and President Mohammad Khatami, a relative moderate who has made overtures to the West.

Friday’s elections are being seen as a contest between the two forces.

Among the approximately 5,000 hopefuls seeking election to the 290-seat Majlis are the reformers calling for more social openness and freedom of speech.

They are opposed by the hard-liners, who warn that the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution are being forgotten.

These traditionalists, who dominate the outgoing parliament, paint a picture of moral decay among young people, Khatami’s most active supporters.

Last month, the hard-line Guardian Council, which determines the fitness of candidates, reportedly disqualified more than 600 candidates, most of them reformers.

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