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Iran Rejects Disaster Aid from Israel, but Accepting Help from Jewish Groups

June 26, 1990
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Though Iran has sent a public message that it does not want Israeli help in recovering from its disastrous series of earthquakes, it accepted relief funds Monday from an American Jewish organization.

Representatives from B’nai B’rith International turned over a check for $1,000 to the Iranian interest section of the Algerian Embassy in Washington.

The check is B’nai B’rith’s initial contribution to help the earthquake victims. It and the American Jewish World Service have set up “open mailboxes” for contributions to aid the thousands of victims.

Humanitarian efforts on the part of the Jewish community “transcend any consideration of ideology and politics,” B’nai B’rith President Seymour Reich said in explaining his organization’s decision to contribute the funds.

Amir Zamani, first secretary of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, said the assistance being offered by the American Jewish groups is “perfectly fine,” as long as it is “humanitarian, not political” — meaning that there should be no Israeli participation in their efforts.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy has offered the Iranians Israeli expertise in assisting earthquake victims. He reportedly passed his offer of help through the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Israeli officials said that the Iranians have not formally refused their help through these channels. But Zamani confirmed news reports coming from the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which said that Iran would not take aid from either Israel or South Africa.

When asked why Iran did not want to take advantage of the experience of Israeli medical personnel in earthquake relief, Zamani replied, “Iran has announced that its emergency treatment centers are fully staffed, and there is no need for any medical personnel, let alone Israeli doctors.”

He did say, however, that he had been informed that Iranian Jews had been instrumental in relief efforts in his country.

Uriel Savir, Israel’s consul general here, called it “symptomatic” for the Iranians to “mix politics into such a tragedy.”

But he said it is up to the American Jewish groups to decide whether to offer relief. Israel is neither encouraging nor discouraging such efforts, he said.


Andrew Griffel, executive director of the American Jewish World Service, said that his group is “a humanitarian organization, committed to helping people who are suffering, regardless of race and religion.”

“Unless Iran would refuse our assistance or make a blatantly anti-Jewish remark, we will offer our help,” he said.

Griffel explained that the AJWS is working with Interaction, a U.S. umbrella group for international development, to identify an appropriate non-governmental agency in Iran through which to channel its contribution.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the United Jewish Appeal-funded agency that was active in aiding victims of the 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia, said Monday that it had not yet decided whether to set up an aid program for Iran.

“We are exploring what we can do that can be most effective and most helpful,” said Aryeh Cooperstock, executive director of JDC’s international development program.

The check from B’nai B’rith was presented to an Iranian official, who would not be identified, by Dr. Michael Neiditch, associate director of B’nai B’rith, and Rabbi Simeon Kobrinetz, a member of the group’s Volunteer Services Committee.

Reich said that the initiative for the contribution originated with B’nai B’rith leadership in Los Angeles, whose membership includes a number of former Iranian Jews.

B’nai B’rith national leadership agreed, Reich said, that “it’s important for the Iranians to see that the Jews are ready to help other people.”

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