Spy scare in Shiraz


THE SENTENCING of 10 Jews from provincial Shiraz to prison as spies for Israel is a sign that Iran is not ready for accommodation with the outside world.

In the struggle between hard-liners who control the spiritual leadership and moderates who hold the presidency, the judiciary belongs to the hard-liners.

The defendants are not what this trial was about. Followers of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader, would make it impossible for President Mohammad Khatami to improve relations with any non-Islamic country and difficult for him to impose reforms.

This outcome serves that purpose.

No evidence against the accused was made public. Several defendants confessed, but what they admitted to is unstated. Exonerating three Jewish defendants was a show at a real trial, as was charging a few Muslims as accomplices.

One result is to propel out many of the more than 25,000 remaining Jews. The similarities to historic anti-Semitism are too crude for any to ignore. That is probably a by-product to which theocratic authorities are indifferent, rather than their goal.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 guaranteed religious freedom to Iran's Christians and Jews, while making war on the tolerant Baha'i sect, viewed as an Iranian Muslim heresy. The official view of tolerated Judaism, however, is that it have nothing to do with Israel.

In the face of moderates' election victories and a loosening social order, the hard-liners have arrested opponents. Treating outside contact, including a visit to Israel, as espionage follows.

A struggle is on for the soul of Iran. One side is antiquated, intolerant and viciously anti-American as a means of maintaining a closed society. The other side is neither pro nor anti-American but concerned with domestic freedoms.

The Jews of Iran are not central to this struggle, but provide convenient scapegoats to intolerant xenophobes, as their forebears have done so often in history.

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