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Iranian Jewish Leader Executed by Firing Squad

May 10, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israelis expressed shock and outrage over the execution of Habib Elkanian, the former president of the Iranian Jewish community, by a firing squad in Teheran this morning for ” spreading corruption” and ” treason through his connections with Israel and Zionism.” The 61-year-old industrialist was the first prominent Jew in Iran to be executed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khoumeini’s Islamic regime.

Elkanian; along with another prominent Iranian Jewish businessman, Ruhollah Ray, who was also the Jewish representative in the lower house of Parliament under the Shah, had been arrested by police last March. The two were being held in Teheran’s special prison for political suspects. Ray’s two sons were also arrested at the some time. Their fate is not immediately known.

Premier Menachem Begin condemned the execution in the Knesset today and urged world public opinion not to be silent over the murderous acts of the “blood-thirsty regime of Khoumeini. The Jewish people will always bear the memory of Elkanian, “he declared. Yehuda Dominitz, director general of the Jewish Agency’s absorption department, also expressed shock. According to reports reaching Jerusalem some 100 Jews are still imprisoned in Iran.

Elkanian was shot along with six other Iranians branded enemies of the regime because of alleged ties with the deposed Shah or what the Ayatollah’s secret Islamic courts consider “corruption.” Teheran Radio said today that Elkanian’s property, valued in the millions of dollars, would be confiscated and used “for the benefit of the people.” According to Jewish sources in Teheran, Elkanian’s execution has spread fear throughout the Jewish community in Iran. The executions today brought the total of known executions since the revolution in Iran last February to 200 people.


(Reactions to Elkanian’s execution brought swift denunciations from Jewish leaders in the United States. In New York; Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef today branded as “fabrications” the charges against Elkanian. He said the charges were made up to serve as an “excuse for murderous acts.”Yosef, who is returning to Israel tonight, after six days in the United States, made his comment in response to questions at a press conference. He said he learned with “anguish” the news of Elkanian’s death this morning. The rabbi said he met Elkanian during his visit to Iran three years ago. Yosef said there could be no basis for the charges against Elkanian.

(Yehuda Hellman, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, denounced the execution as ” a barbaric act that underscores till further the blood-thirsty nature of those who have arrogated power to themselves in Iran. No regime can long. continue as an expression of raw ugly terrorism.”

(Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-American Section, said “The Ayatollah Khoumeini who was returned to power because of his deep religious commitment, certainly knows that the Jews of Iran have always have been loyal, and should not deny them the right to have ties with their fellow Jews around the world.” She added, “One cannot help but wonder as to the role of the PLO in this execution.” Mrs. Jacobson noted that much has been made of the alliance between Yasir Arafat and the Ayatollah. “Perhaps,” she said, “a special meeting of the UN is called for to deal with this gross violation of human rights in Iran. It is time to let Iran understand that if it wants relationships with the Western world it will have to prevent further judicial murders of this type.”

(Philip Klutznick, president of the World Jewish Congress, said Elkanian’s execution followed “a summary trial in which he was accused of Zionism and subversive activities on behalf of Israel, without being given any of the opportunities for defense required by international law and basic principles of justice: Thus a new category of victims has been added to the sad record of those forces which the current Iranian regime seems unable to prevent from taking the law into their own hands.”)


(In Washington, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter specifically mentioned Elkanian when he was asked about the executions in Teheran this morning. “We have repeatedly made clear our strong disapproval of the summary executions in Iran,” Carter said. He added that the U.S. is reiterating that view “having particularly in mind the execution of Habib Elkanian.” He stressed that “we are not taking a stand on the guilt or innocence of the victims.” He said that “we do feel strongly that defendants should have a fair and open trial” and opportunity to defend themselves.

(Carter said “it is disturbing that Elkanian was a member of a “minority community” and the government of Iran had given assurances that minorities would be protected as a fundamental tenet of Islamic law.” While the implications are disturbing,” Carter continued, “the press reports indicate that Elkanian was tried as an individual and not as a leader of the Jewish community.”)

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