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Iranian Jews in L.a. Applaud Democracy Push from Shah’s Son

May 7, 2002
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It’s not often that a Jewish audience breaks into a standing ovation for an Iranian political figure.

But as Reza Pahlavi, son of the former shah of Iran, took the stage at the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week, the overflow audience of Iranian Jews rose waving Iranian, American and Israeli flags, broke into rhythmic clapping and shouted in Persian, “Long Live the Shah” and “We Love You.”

The heir to the deposed Iranian monarchy had come to the heartland of America’s Iranian diaspora to pursue his 20-year quest to rid Iran of the ayatollahs’ theocratic regime and replace it with a secular democracy.

Pahlavi, 41, did not tailor his remarks to a Jewish audience, but his speech was greeted with enthusiasm by members of Los Angeles’ 30,000-strong Iranian Jewish community.

Pahlavi spoke in English, but one woman in the audience used Persian to assure Pahlavi that the entire Iranian Jewish community was behind him and hoped to see him as Iran’s future leader.

Pahlavi, who lives in exile, appreciated the compliment, but said his current role would be finished once an open referendum in Iran swept away the ayatollahs’ regime.

But at that point, if “the people want me to play a part,” he would be available, Pahlavi said.

Earlier, in an interview with JTA, Pahlavi noted that all Iranians had suffered under the human rights abuses of the ayatollahs’ “Inquisition,” but Jews had been targeted in particular.

The democratic Iran that he envisions would maintain a strict separation between mosque and state, Pahlavi said. He acknowledged that during his father’s reign there had been some interference in government by the clergy, “but that was a far cry from what we are seeing today.”

As described in his current book, “Winds of Change: The Future of Democracy in Iran,” Pahlavi predicts the downfall of the ayatollahs through a process of nonviolent civil disobedience, led by the an increasingly disillusioned youth, who make up the bulk of Iran’s population.

Pahlavi estimates the predominantly Muslim Iranian diaspora at 3.5 million worldwide, including 1.5 million in the United States. Their active support would be crucial in the democratization effort, Pahlavi said, citing as his model the international Jewish community’s support for Israel.

The present regime, which he said “set a new standard for evil under the sun,” will be replaced within six months to three years, he predicted.

In the meantime, however, “we cannot take it lightly when” former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani threatens to use nuclear bombs on Israel,” he warned.

Pahlavi fielded written questions after his talk. The last one asked, “When will we be able to go home?”

“The day we commit ourselves absolutely to a democratic Iran is the day we start packing,” Pahlavi responded.

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