At the time this was written, Iranian president Hassan Rohani was planning to bring with him the only Jewish member of Iran’s parliament when he attends the United Nations General Assembly this week. Jewish arm candy can be very useful in certain sticky political situations.
Rohani’s immediate predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was known for his claims that the Holocaust was a hoax. Hence NBC-TV’s Ann Curry recently asked the newly-elected Rohani if he shares that view. He replied: “I’m not a historian, I’m a politician.” Rohani is mistaken if he thinks that bringing MP Siamak Moreh Sedgh along to the U.N. will take the sting out of that reprehensible answer.
Adolf Hitler was perhaps the first dictator in modern times to utilize a Trophy Jew — ostensibly in pursuit of a trophy. In the months leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, numerous Americans called for a boycott of the games. One of their main arguments was that the Nazi regime had broken the rules of the International Olympics Committee by refusing to let Jewish athletes compete for places on the German team.
Hitler responded by inviting a German Jewish high jumper, Margaret Lambert, to try out. American opponents of the boycott made good use of the Lambert invitation to undercut the anti-Nazi boycott campaign. Lambert’s tryout jump of 1.60 meters tied the German high-jump record, but just days before the games opened — after the Nazis had fully exploited the PR benefits of her presence — she was informed by the authorities that she did not make the team because of her “mediocre performance.”
The Germans did not even have three women high jumpers to field, as did other Olympic teams. And one of their two jumpers later turned out to be a man who disguised himself as a woman on orders from Nazi officials. Ironically, the Hungarian athlete who won the high jump in the 1936 games reached the same height Lambert did in the tryouts, 1.60. No matter; sacrificing an Olympic medal was a price Hitler was more than willing to pay in exchange for the propaganda points he scored.
The leaders of the Soviet Union employed some Jewish arm candy of their own. In response to criticism of the persecution of Soviet Jews, the Kremlin sent Moscow’s chief rabbi, Yehuda Leib Levin, to the United States in June 1968 to announce that “all the restrictions on [Jewish] culture, work and similar matters were eliminated and the Jews have the same rights as other nationalities.” Accusations of Soviet anti-Semitism were all the creation of “bad tongues, evil tongues,” Rabbi Levin insisted.
Interestingly, Rabbi Levin’s visit was organized by the U.S. wing of Neturei Karta, a tiny extremist sect in Jerusalem that believes the state of Israel should not have been created. Evidently that was the only Jewish organization the Soviets could find that would sponsor Levin’s disinformation tour.
Some years later, one of Neturei Karta’s leaders, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, filled the role of Jewish Prop for the Palestinian leadership. In 1994, Yasser Arafat appointed Hirsch as his “Minister for Jewish Affairs.” His main tasks included posing for photos holding hands with Arafat and giving interviews to Arab publications as the Jew who denounces Israel. Evidently it never occurred to Arafat that embracing a Jewish fringe figure who opposed Israel’s existence was not the most effective way of demonstrating to the world that Palestinian leaders sincerely accepted Israel’s existence.
Hirsch was a bizarre figure who voluntarily chose to give aid and comfort to those who had devoted their lives to trying to destroy Israel. No doubt psychiatrists could have a field day deciphering his motives.
The other Trophy Jews, by contrast, were essentially prisoners. Margaret Lambert had to reckon with the likelihood that the Nazis would retaliate against her family if she refused to compete for the German Olympic team. Yehuda Levin, the chief rabbi of Moscow, undoubtedly likewise feared that his family or other Soviet Jews might be harmed if he did not heed the Kremlin’s orders. Rabbi Levin, of course, went much further than Ms. Lambert, by becoming a public apologist for the Soviet regime, but most American Jews likely recognized that he was a captive mouthpiece for Soviet propaganda.
The Jewish MP whom Iranian president Rohani is bringing to New York, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, seems to be cut from the same cloth as the late Moscow rabbi. In interviews with the international news media, Moreh Sedgh has accused Israel of “anti-human behavior” and denied that there is, or ever has been, anti-Semitism in Iran. He has not explained why it is that 90 percent of Iran’s Jews have chosen to flee the country since 1979.
If President Rohani wants to persuade Americans that his recent election represents a genuine change of attitude in Tehran, he should respect our intelligence and stop trying to “prove” Iran is tolerant by trotting out a captive Jewish apologist for his regime. The American public will not be so easily fooled.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.