Several Jewish organizations have expressed concern and condemnation over a purported arson attack on the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran.
Conflicting information surrounds the extent of the attack on the Jewish shrine. Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Saturday that there had been an attempt to break into the tomb on Friday, but that the sabotager failed in his attempt. The report said that the Jewish shrine had not sustained damage and claimed that the perpetrator’s face had been caught on CCTV footage and police were searching for him.
But two hours after the IRNA report was posted, it was taken down from the site.
An Iranian-American blogger said on Twitter that his contacts in Iran confirmed that there was an “attempt” to burn the synagogue at the tomb. “Some smoke damage but the fire was minimal. No arrests of suspects have been made yet by Ayatollah regime,” he wrote.
Jewish groups were quick to criticize the purported attack and urged the Iranian regime to investigate.
In a tweet on Friday, Anti-Defamation League CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt indicated that the site had indeed been torched.
“Disturbing reports from Iran that the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, a holy Jewish site, was set afire overnight. We hope that the authorities bring the perpetrators of this anti-Semitic act to justice and commit to protecting the holy sites of all religious minorities in Iran,” he wrote.
Similarly, Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, accused the Iranian regime of being the “world’s chief state sponsor of anti-Semitism.”
“[Iran] must stop incitement and protect its Jewish community and other minorities,” he wrote.
“We are outraged by reports that the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran, was desecrated by arson last night,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement on Friday.
The American Sephardi Federation also condemned the arson attack on the tomb, as well as other recent attacks on minority sites in Iran, including Bandar Abbas’s historic Hindu Temple and the Christian cemetery at Eslamshahr.
According to Jason Guberman, executive director of the American Sephardi Federation, the Islamic regime has for decades “waged a disgraceful campaign to persecute Persian Jews as well as to politicize and desecrate Jewish holy sites in Iran.”
Guberman pointed out how the Iranian regime has sought to undermine the message of the shrine as a symbol of kinship between the Jewish and Persian people.
“When talented Iranian architect Yassi Gabbay renovated the Shrine to Esther and Mordechai in the 1970s, his purposeful design sought to ‘express the relationship of the Jews of Iran,’ as the oldest minority and living in the country for the last 2,500 years, with the Iranian nation,” he said. “This is precisely the relationship that Iranian authorities have sought to rend asunder, including by removing the Esther and Mordechai Shrine’s iconic fence because it featured a six-point star motif.”
Guberman explained that “although widely recognized as a “Jewish star” or “Star of David,” Yassi’s inspiration for the fence’s design was an Isfahani mosque ceramic, and such stars are common throughout Islamic architecture. In addition to the fence, Yassi topped the partially underground synagogue adjacent to the Shrine with a “Jewish star” roof ornament, which is visible from space.”
Claim that it was ‘Zionist’
The tomb has long been a point of contention within Iran.
While the Islamic government recognizes Judaism as an official religion and draws a distinction between Jews and Zionists, anti-Semitism within the country is widespread with many hardline Iranian leaders calling for the destruction of the shrine because it glorifies the story of Purim. The reported attack occurred the day after the 72nd anniversary of the founding of modern-day Israel, which the Palestinians and Israel’s detectors mark as “Nakba [‘Catastrophe’] Day.”
In recent years, the shrine has come under further attack. In 2016, members of the regime’s Basij paramilitary groups, waving anti-Semitic signs, Hezbollah flags and pictures of the ayatollahs Khamenei and Khomeini, threatened to destroy the shrine, claiming it was “Zionist.”
Similarly, in February, the Student Basji Military threatened to destroy the tomb and build the “Consulate of Palestine” in its place.
“Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif says Iran, following Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous declaration, distinguishes between Jews and Israel, but the regime’s horrible treatment of Persian Jews and holy places, support for terrorist organizations and direct involvement in terrorism abroad (such as the AMIA bombing), promotion of Holocaust denial and hateful Islamist ideologies, and Khamenei’s countdown to a new genocide against Jews are all undeniably anti-Semitic,” said Guberman.