Iran’s sole Jewish parliamentarian on Sunday praised the Islamic Republic’s religious tolerance, saying Iranian Jews can freely practice their faith without fear.
Speaking during an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Siamak Moreh Sedgh acknowledged that the Iranian Jewish community occasionally suffered from unequal treatment by authorities, but said that such issues were being addressed.
“Being a Jewish minority in a religious country has some problems,” Moreh Sedgh said. “But after the revolution, step by step, our problems are being solved. Today, our condition is better than yesterday, and today, our condition is much better than 10 years or 20 years ago.”
In Iran, five seats in parliament are reserved for recognized religious minorities — one for a Jew, two for Christians and two for Zoroastrians. Moreh Sedgh, 48, who also serves as director of the Tehran Jewish Committee, has represented his community in parliament since 2012.
The Jewish MP went on to assert that Jews in Iran may wholly observe Jewish law, as the country provides them with many essential religious services and permits them to operate their own religious facilities.
“For religious freedom, Iran is one of the most free countries,” he said. “You can go to synagogue. We can have our ceremonies,” Moreh Sedgh added.
“In Tehran, there are more than 10 kosher butcheries, five kosher restaurants… There are today more than five Jewish schools in Tehran, and our children are completely free to go to Jewish school or public school,” he concluded.
Iran’s is the largest Jewish community in the Middle East — estimated at under 9,000, according to a 2012 census — after Israel. There were some 150,000 Jews there in 1948, when Israel was established, and while some 70,000 immigrated to Israel in the next 30 years, some 80,000 remained at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That number collapsed in the years since, with some 20,000 leaving within months of the rise of Islamist rule.
Moreh Sedgh accompanied Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to New York last week and was part of the country’s delegation to the United Nations. The move was seen as fulfilling Rouhani’s promise to give a bigger role in governance to minorities in the country.
Moreh Sedgh has criticized Israel on numerous occasions, and has dubbed the Jewish state’s treatment of Palestinians “inhuman.”
In May 2008, Moreh Sedgh said that Iran’s Jewish community would not mark Israel’s 60th anniversary. “We are in complete disagreement with the behavior of Israel,” Moreh Sedgh said at the time, adding that in Gaza Israel displayed “anti-human behavior… they kill innocent people.”
In an interview with Russia Today in 2010, Moreh Sedgh denied that anti-Semitism existed in Iran, claiming it was a uniquely European phenomenon.
“Jews are safe in Iran. There has never been a single instance of anti-Semitism in Iranian society. This phenomenon belongs to the European, Christian world,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report