On Shabbos afternoon parshas Korach, as Israeli
chareidi Jewry obeyed to instructions of the rabbonim to pray
for their welfare, 10 of the Jewish defendants in the Iranian
show spy trial were found guilty and sentenced to long prison
sentences ranging from four to 13 years in prison. Three,
including a 17-year-old student, were found innocent.
Because of the gravity of the situation, the rabbonim
directed the Jewish community to pray for our Iranian
brethren, despite the fact that such prayers are not
ordinarily said on Shabbos.
Israel, United States, Israel, Britain and France criticized
Iran after the sentences were issued. President Clinton
called on Iran to "overturn these unjust sentences." Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday that he
would call on the international community to press Iran to
free the 10.
Iranian officials were defiant and attacked Western criticism
of the verdicts, saying it was a violation of its national
Some American Jewish politicians and activists say the
conviction of 10 of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for
Israel places all of Iranian Jewry under a great threat.
There are now approximately 25,000 Jews in Iran, down from
100,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. No
Iranian official was quoted as offering any reassuring words
to the rest of the Jewish community.
In his verdict, the judge reportedly noted that all 10 men
were guilty of contact with Israel, devotion to the Jewish
state and study of the Torah.
Several of the 10 were religious leaders in the southern city
of Shiraz. The others were their adherents. The religious
leaders received the harshest sentences.
The verdict could be appealed, said the chief lawyer for the
10, which could lead to reduced sentences or even clemency
from Iran's religious leader.
Not surprisingly, Jewish emigration from Iran has leapt since
the trial began in April.
Since 1979, 17 other Iranian Jews accused of spying have been
executed, most recently in 1997 and 1998. The difference, say
American Jewish advocates for the "Iran 13," is that the
earlier arrests were virtually kept secret. The families
reportedly heard about the executions only after the fact
Observers say that in those cases too, the Jews were used as
pawns in the political battles of the Iranian leadership.
U.S. Jewish organizational leaders said they became convinced
of the Iran 13's innocence after conducting their own
investigation and consulting with the CIA, FBI and the
Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency.
American Jewish officials say they believe the case
originated as a conflict within Iranian Jewry, between the
community leadership in Teheran, which is said to go to great
lengths not to offend the Islamic authorities, and an
increasingly active, more observant faction in Shiraz.
Iranian Moslem hard-liners seized on the dispute to undermine
the Western outreach of their reformist rivals and there were
arrests in January and March 1999.
During the early stages of the trial in May, the
"confessions" of two of the accused were broadcast on state-
controlled television. That fanned the flames of Jew-hatred,
and many Iranian Jews reported that they were afraid to go to
work, or send their children to school, because some in the
public now suspected all Jews of being spies. Several Jewish-
owned shops were reportedly attacked, with one in Teheran set
In all, by the end of the trial eight of the Jews "confessed"
to the charges, while a ninth admitted to gathering, but not
disseminating, information to the Mossad.
Foreign observers insisted that the "confessions" had been
coerced after 15 months of solitary confinement, with human
contact limited mostly to the interrogators. The prisoners'
families were later allowed to visit for only five minutes
During the trial itself, the courtroom was closed to the
public and foreign observers, and the judge also assumed the
role of prosecutor. According to Western law, that would be
considered a clear conflict of interest.
Hard evidence was not provided, said the defense attorneys, a
violation of Iranian law. The verdicts were therefore based
on the "confessions," which raises questions about their
validity since four of the Jews recently recanted their
statements in second appearances before the judge.
Moreover, many questions remain unanswered: How would these
Jews -- who were mostly simple shopkeepers, clerks or
teachers -- have access to military sites and other sensitive
information? Why would the Israeli Mossad, one of the most
respected intelligence agencies in the world, hire Jews who
live under a microscope? And why couldn't the Mossad not have
simply gotten such data from satellites?
Nevertheless, the verdict may have been a compromise of
sorts. To the Iranian public, judiciary officials can
maintain that they did indeed root out a spy ring. To the
outside world, they can point to the "leniency" and
"fairness" they have demonstrated, by their standards, in
that some Jews were acquitted and no one will be executed.
The following are the sentences handed down Saturday on the
Iran 13 by the revolutionary court in Shiraz, Iran:
Hamid (Dany) Tefileen, 29, merchant, 13 years in prison
Asher Zadmehr, 49, university English instructor, 13 years
Nasser Levi Haim, 46, Hebrew teacher, 11 years
Ramin Farzam, 36, perfume merchant, 10 years
Javeed Beit Yaakov, 41, sporting goods merchant, nine
Farzad Kashi, 31, religion teacher, eight years
Shahrokh Paknahad, 23, religion teacher, eight years
Farhad Saleh, 31, shopkeeper, eight years
Faramarz Kashi, 35, Hebrew teacher (brother of Farzad Kashi,)
Ramin Nemati, 23, merchant, four years
Navid Bala Zadeh, 17, student
Nejat Broukhim, 36
Omid Tefileen, 26 (brother of Hamid Tefileen)
Some have said that it would not be in the best interests of
Iranian Jewry to try to impose tough sanctions in Iran in
response to the verdict.
The Moslem hard-liners "have used this trial to present these
Jews as aggressors and spies, and that all Jews have hostile
tendencies toward Iran," said Pedram Moallemian, a non-
Jewish Iranian emigre who is director of a Toronto-based
human rights group, the Canadian Iranian Center for Liberty
and Equality. "Some sort of backlash or sanction would prove
their point that Iranian Jews are working with the enemy. And
if there were, say, no milk for babies, Iranians looking to
blame someone might find the easiest target to be the Jew on
Regardless of the stance of American Jewry, the United States
and the European Union sound as if they will try to balance
their own reflex to react strongly to the verdict with their
desire to engage Iran and draw it into the community of
democratic, human rights-respecting nations.
Since the 1997 election of Khatami, Washington has taken
small, mostly symbolic steps toward easing sanctions, some of
which have been in place since soon after the 1979 Islamic
The United States wants improved relations with Iran in an
effort to gain leverage with a state that has sponsored
terrorism and undermined the Middle East peace process.