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Iranian Jews arrive for new lives in Israel

About 40 are greeted by relatives in Tel Aviv. An estimated 200 have come this year, fleeing discrimination.

December 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

TEL AVIV — Greeted by joyous relatives and a crowd of reporters, about 40 Iranian Jews landed in Israel on Tuesday, leaving behind their lives in the Islamic Republic for new homes in the Jewish state.

Family members screamed in delight and threw candy at the newcomers as they emerged into the airport reception hall. No details were given about their route of exit from Iran.

"I feel so good," said Yosef, 16. He and his brother Michael arrived with their parents and a sister and were greeted by their grandparents, who came to Israel six years ago. "I just saw all of my family. You can't put that into words."

The brothers declined to give their family name to protect relatives still in Iran.

The new arrivals were sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity that receives millions of dollars from evangelical donors each year.

Its founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, said by telephone from Chicago that each immigrant received $10,000 because they had left behind all their possessions. However, many at the airport said that they were joining family already here.

Evangelical backers of Israel say they are following a biblical prophecy that creation of a Jewish state here is a step toward the Messianic Age.

Some Israeli critics say their ultimate goal is to convert Jews to Christianity, a charge the evangelicals deny.

Michael, 15, said he told all of his friends where he was going, and they wanted to come along.

"I was scared in Iran as a Jew," he said.

There was no comment Tuesday from the Iranian government.

Iran's Jewish community of about 25,000 people is protected by the country's constitution and remains the largest in the Muslim Middle East. Synagogues, Jewish schools and stores operate in the capital, but Jews also report discrimination and increasing concern about hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hostility toward Israel.

About 200 Iranian Jews arrived in Israel this year, more than any other year since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, said Michael Jankelowitz, spokesman for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which deals with immigration.

Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst whose family emigrated from Iran in the 1980s, said Jews in Iran were generally free to practice their religion, but were increasingly concerned about the intensity of attacks on Israel by the Iranian press, which they viewed as bordering on anti-Semitic, he said.

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