Accuracy in Media

Writing in JTA, Jewish writer Larry Cohler-Esses called out PBS for its reporting on Jews living in Iran.

PBS’s headline states, “Despite tension between Iran and Israel, Iran’s Jewish minority feels at home.”

“The story refers vaguely and incompletely to the discrimination that Jews (and other non-Muslim minorities) live within Iran, mentioning only that Jews are ‘still kept away from senior government and military positions,’” Cohler-Esses writes. “In fact, the discrimination goes considerably beyond this. Under Iran’s sharia law code, different penalties are laid out for Muslims and non-Muslims for a variety of violations, almost always disfavoring the non-Muslims. The government also insists that each of the Tehran Jewish community’s five schools must be run by a Muslim principal — a requirement that the head of the Jewish community bluntly, and courageously, condemned on the record as ‘insulting’ in my 2015 interview with him. If a Jew murders a Muslim, the proscribed penalty is death. If a Muslim murders a Jew, the payment of blood money is an option.”

Cohler-Esses points out that PBS touting “15,000 Jews” living in Iran (though Cohler-Esses says the self-reported number by Jews is only 9,000) does not give adequate context about how few in number that is today relative to the past.

“The physical security of Jews as a community in Iran is even buttressed by a religious fatwa forbidding harm to the community that was issued by the Islamic Republic’s founding leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after he took power,” Cohler-Esses writes. “But taken in total, the legal and social discrimination under which Iran’s Jews (and Christians and Zoroastrians) live leave them as basically well protected second-class citizens. For Jews, the impact of these conditions is reflected in a basic statistic found nowhere in the PBS report. Before the 1979 revolution, 80,000 to 100,000 Jews lived in Iran. Today, only 9,000 Jews live there, according to census figures, where Iranians are obliged to list their religion. Those numbers make a big statement about what most Iranian Jews think about living under the conditions ‘News Hour’ describes more or less accurately, if incompletely.”

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