Ali Kushki

Tolerance historically practiced in Iran: Jewish lawmaker 

April 26, 2017

Exclusive – Not like in the Western world where it was belatedly introduced, tolerance has been practiced in the historically multicultural context of Iran, where the Jewish community have been living in peaceful coexistence with other populations for centuries, the Jewish community representative in Majlis (Parliament) says. 

Siamak Moreh Sedgh, also the director of the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, says that anti-Semitism and Zionism are “identical twins”, both sharing the idea that Jews are different from other human beings.  

“Anti-Semitism considers Jews as inferior to others, and Zionism as superior,” he tells the Tehran Times. 
Situated on Mostafa Khomeini Street, named for the son of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Sapir hospital sits across from the Imam Reza Seminary school, one of the oldest Shiite seminaries in Tehran. 
In what follows, a transcript of the first part of the interview has been given. 

Q: Could we start with a brief history of the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center? 

A: The Sapir Hospital and Charity Center started here (in Tehran) as a small clinic in the yard of the small synagogue back in early World War II when there was a Jewish quarter here and most of the people leaving close to the hospital were Jewish. 
Step by step, the hospital was expanded mainly through donations from Jews. A main goal was to improve health and hygiene via preventive and therapeutic methods nearly seventy years ago when preventive medicine was not a common practice. For instance, pregnant women received treatment right from registration time till two years after delivery. 
It’s interesting to know that one of the founders of the hospital died in the hospital during the Typhoid fever epidemic. He was a young, single physician who got infected with Typhoid fever and part of the hospital was named after him as the Dr. Sapir Hospital. He deserved it as he donated his life for the health of others.  

“In the Sapir hospital, staff include Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, all working together regardless of their religion.”

Another important point bout the hospital is that we are not permitted to ask about the origins of the patients referring to the center. All of the patients must be admitted to the hospital regardless of their nationality and religion. 
Today, nearly 95 percent of the patients admitted to the hospital as well as 95 percent of the staff are non-Jewish. It’s the only Jewish charity hospital in the world that works on a charity-basis for all patients who refer to the center. Of course there are other Jewish charity hospitals in the world that exclusively provide services to the Jewish community.

Q: What is the philosophy behind it? 

A: The philosophy is written on the hospital’s gate. It’s a Hebrew proverb and part of the Torah, meaning that you must love others as yourself. It doesn’t say love a follow Jew as yourself. Even during the 1979 Revolution many of the people who were attacked by military forces of the Shah were admitted in the hospital for treatment. One night, the officer of the military service came to arrest the patients. But he was denied access by the manager of the hospital, then a Jewish lady, because the patients were undergoing treatment. 
One more interesting point to know is that at that night, some Jews had contacted Ayatollah Taleghani and from a backdoor, all the patients had been evacuated overnight just hours before security forces came the day after to arrest the patients injured during anti-Shah demonstrations. For this reason Imam Khomeini, who was then in exile in Neauphle-le-chateau, wrote a letter to the hospital staff to hail the action. 
And during the Iraqi invasion of Iran, half of the hospital’s beds were allocated to war victims. Even during the Israeli attack against the Palestinian people, we announced that we were completely ready to provide free-of-charge medical services to the Palestinian victims. 

“During the Israeli attack against the Palestinian people, we announced that we were completely ready to provide free-of-charge medical services to the Palestinian victims.”
During the sanctions era, a European official told me that they weren’t able to help the hospital considering the sanctions hurdle. I told him that we are part of the Iranian nation and whenever the sanctions are removed and you were ready to help the Iranian nation, we would be with you. 
I told him that it was unacceptable for us to be treated exceptionally. It is in line with our long-standing belief from centuries ago that we the Jewish community and all other Iranians have the same national interests. So, any harm to the Iranian people will be harm to the Iranian Jews, as well. 

And everything that’s okay for the Iranian people is okay with us, too. That’s because we’re one nation and have been living together since more than three thousand years ago. If you have a look at Iran’s history, it’s always been a multicultural one and you can’t find one moment in the Iranian history that all the Iranian people have spoken the same language. This mosaic culture of the Iranian people helps Iranians to be highly tolerant and allows them to establish better relations between different monistic religions in Iran.  

Q: So, you mean you see no contrast between different religious practices and Iran’s national unity?  

A: The world should know that Iranian Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and Muslims are all part of the same nation. So all of us are ready to stand up to those who may be crazy enough to damage our country. 
After Saddam Hossein attacked Iran, all worked together to defend the country. Twenty Jews were killed during the war. Also, there were Christians and Zoroastrians who lost their lives during the war to defend Iran. Let me give an example. During the wartime, more than five of the Jews living then in Kermanshah (western Iran) who were a small community of nearly 200 hundreds were killed. 

Q: After the 1979 revolution in Iran, many Jewish people left Iran. Yet, many of the Jewish community preferred to stay. Even your wife left the country. But you stayed. Why did you make the decision not to leave? 

A: After every revolution, immigration rate is high. Of course, part of Iranian Jews immigrated. But two points are important here. First, most of them went to the U.S. and UK. It shows that the Zionism propaganda cannot attract Iranian Jews. 
And it is important to remember that all through the Iranian history you cannot find anti-Semitism. Zionism is active and can succeed in a country where anti-Semitism is high and I think anti-Semitism and Zionism are identical twins because both claim Jews are different from other human beings. Anti-Semitism considers Jews as inferior to others, and Zionism as superior. So, both fractionalize Jews in different ways. But I think Jews are like other people. One cannot categorize people on the basis of their race, religion, language, or nationality. It may be interesting to know that tolerance in Iran dates back to centuries ago. 
Something which is called tolerance in the West started after secularism and laicism. But in Iran tolerance is the product of our religious beliefs. Muslims and Jews accept and respect each other. So tolerance in Iran is totally different from its Western version. In Iran, for instance, there are cases were churches, temples, synagogues and mosques are located very close to each other. Abadan (southern Iran) and Shiraz are instances. Even in this hospital, staff include Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, all working together regardless of their religion. 

AK/PA 

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