Iran, Earthquakes, Israel, & Jews: What to Do?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, AJWS, Israeli press, and others, 12/30/2003

Dear Folks,

Many readers responded to my sending out the announcement by the American Jewish World Service of its efforts to aid Iranian quake victims by asking my feelings and thoughts about the Iranian government's rejection of the Israeli government's offer of aid to the victims.

The answer is that I feel both anger at the Iranian government and agony on behalf of the people who were suffering and being denied even some proportion of possible aid.

I am glad American Jewish World Service is trying to help save lives, especially of innocent folk caught in the earth's upheaval. As Talmud teaches, God created the human race through one single person so as to teach us that to save a single life is to save the whole world. That comes first.

As the AJWS announcement said, they will be working with non- governmental groups.

As for the stupidity and vicious self-destructiveness of this action of the Iranian government --- I would say note it, weep for it, and if possible figure out (a) how to reach the Iranian public to ask whether such demonization really serves their best interests, and (b) whether there is anything else we ourselves and the Israelis themselves could do vis-a-vis Iran to help defuse that demonization, after the immediate emergency is past.

Aside from the ethics (or perhaps to say it more accurately, rooted in the ethics), I think if AJWS helps suffering Iranians, it is more likely to transform that demonization of Israel by the Iranian government into a more open responsiveness than if AJWS were to refuse.

For those who come to the same conclusion: Donations can be sent to: American Jewish World Service, Iran Earthquake, 45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018. Or call 1-800- 889-7146 or visit their Web site at

I am appending comments from Israelis who are continuing to extend non-governmental aid; from a committedly Jewish activist who is an American of Persian origin, Nili Simhai of the Teva Learning Center; from the AJWS itself; and from an Iranian-American who supports the action of the Iranian government. (The last came to me in response to a comment on all this that I sent to one of the listserves of a US antiwar coalition. In my experience, it is always important to know what may be the grievances stirring those who are hostile to us. Sometimes we may even realize what we MIGHT be able to do to reduce the hostility.)

Shalom, Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director
The Shalom Center


The following appears on the website

"we don't ask and we don't argue and we don't think about political issues. We just act. If we can act, we will."

Iran has officially announced that they're willing to receive help from any country except for "the Zionist entity". So far the quake's death toll has reached 15,000, and it is expected to exceed 20,000.

Iranian callers on the Voice of Israel's popular Farsi-language program Sunday "expressed their deep gratitude toward Israelis who have supported sending aid to Iran," according to program director Menashe Amir. He added that they "harshly criticized" their leaders for rejecting the open-handed gesture.

The Israeli government offered condolences following the devastating earthquake in Iran, saying it had "no conflict" with the Iranian people, despite it

enmity with the Islamic regime. "The Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, Sylvan Shalom, addresses in the name of the Israeli Government and the people of Israel condolences to the Iranian people after the catastrophe," the Foreign Ministry said.

"The Government and people of Israel are moved by the human tragedy experienced by the Iranian people and believe that despite all differences a mobilization of the whole international community is needed to come to the help of families of the victims and wounded," it said in a statement.


From Nili Simhai, co-director of The Teva Centrer, a center for education in eco-Judaism:

I emailed AJWS. Their response can be found below. As an Iranian Jew, I am used to this kind of talk from the government clergy in Iran. It has never stopped me from supporting humanitarian causes in Iran before. You just learn to separate government propaganda from the people.

Not that there isn't anti-Jewish/Israeli sentiment amongst the people. But as with everywhere else in the world, there is good and there is bad. In many way I feel that it is davka important for Jewish groups to make bridges through humanitarian efforts in places where they are least welcome.
— Nili Simha


From: Ronni Strongin of American Jewish World Service

Thank you for your thoughtful inquiry. The funds we are collecting for the victims of the earthquake will be distributed through non-governmental, humanitarian assistance organizations on the ground who will be glad to accept our help.

We are greatly distressed by Iran's decision to exclude help from Israel and are in the process of preparing a response. I thank you for seeing beyond the politics and seeing the great human need for which we are compelled to act.

Thank you, Ronni


As an Iranian who opposes many actions and human rights violation committed by Iranian government, I completely support their decision on not accepting Israeli help. I have no doubts that JEWISH help would be welcomed rather than ISRAELI help. There is a very basic distinction!!

A country that has already announced plans to attack Iran in the near future has no rights to land a single official person in my home country. The threat may be just to the nuclear plants but Iran need nuclear energy with the rise in population and limited water resources.



Arthur's comment: Even after stretching my thoughts and feelings to understand this response, I still think the Iranian government's response was wrong. This moment might have opened an opportunity to begin reducing the fear and anger between the two governments as well as their peoples, rather than strengthen it.

In addition, however, Harah's comment opens up an entire question about the dangers of nuclear weaponry in the Middle East, and how to deal with them. I will be writing about this soon.

— Shalom, AW