A simple Rosh Hashanah blessing was issued via Twitter Wednesday by a surprising figure: Iran’s newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani.
As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah. pic.twitter.com/tmaf84x7UR
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 4, 2013
“As the sun is about to set here in Tehran, I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah,” Rouhani tweeted. The message was posted with a picture of a man in a yarmulke bowing his head in prayer.
It’s a far cry from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose term preceded Rouhani’s – and who once inflamed the Jewish community and world by calling the Holocaust a lie.
Iran’s Jewish population, estimated in a 2011 census to number fewer than 9,000 people, comprises only a tiny fraction of Iran’s population – though the State Department and religious leaders estimate that number could be upwards of 20,000. The Muslim majority account for an overwhelming 99.4%.
With Islam as the foundation of Iranian law, Persian Jews and other religious minorities, including nearly all non-Shi’a religious groups, have faced years of discrimination. While Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians are granted freedom of religion “within the limits” of the Constitution, many have faced harassment and imprisonment at the government’s hands. Additionally, under Iranian law, religious minorities cannot be elected to senior government or military posts with the exception of five reserved seats in the 290-member legislative body.
“President Rouhani has made clear from the beginning of his campaign that he believes in equal rights for all minorities, and that would of course include the Jewish minority,” Iranian-American author and NBC News contributor Hooman Majd told MSNBC.com. “I think it’s in keeping with his character, his personality, and the way he wants his administration to be seen by the Iranians who voted him in.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell Wednesday, “The message is welcome. The tone is welcome. But what counts are deeds more than words.”